Looking for a health boost? Art can help

The act of taking in and experiencing great art is one of the most fulfilling cultural activities we can engage in. We often hear it said that art is good for the soul, but did you know that viewing art can have a demonstrably positive effect on your health too? Researchers have begun to look into the positive outcomes that the act of simply looking at paintings can have on your mental and physical wellbeing, with incredible results.

Whilst there have been numerous studies into the encouragingly positive effects that creating and participating in art can have on health, more recently studies have begun to emerge that make a strong link between the act of viewing art and favourable health benefits. One such health study, carried out in Norway with 130,000 participants aged 13 and over, found that high general participation in arts and culture correlated with good health, life satisfaction, low anxiety and low depression in both men and women. Crucially, this study found that there was no significant difference between the health benefits of those that created art and those that simply consumed it.

Another Italian study was able to record a positive physical response to art by identifying a considerable drop in the hormone cortisol that the body produces to manage stress. A saliva sample was taken from 100 volunteers before they visited the beautiful Basilica of Vicoforte, near the town of Cuneo. Another sample was taken after the volunteers had spent two hours viewing the outstanding frescos the basilica contains. Professor Enzo Grossi, who carried out the study, explained that a 60% drop in cortisol levels was recorded in the volunteers. In fact, 90% of the volunteers reported that they felt ‘much better’ after the experience. Professor Grossi noted that this was the first time that “the beneficial effect of [viewing] art on health has been measured."

The remarkable results found in the Italian study would seem to support the findings of the Norwegian study, which are that very real mental and physical health benefits are to be found when viewing and appreciating art. Those that spend time observing art have lower stress levels, report that they are more satisfied with their life and experience a lower rate of anxiety and depression.