From joining a few friends for an afternoon of plein air painting (also known as painting outdoors) at a local botanical garden to enrolling in a drawing class or pottery workshop, the process of creating is linked to increased feelings of joy and purpose. Research shows that engaging in the arts can improve your mental and physical well-being at every age.
The health benefits that come from participating in arts activities range from lower rates of depression to less reliance on prescription medications. This knowledge is the basis for a movement known as art therapy, where arts and crafts are used in a variety of health care and aging services settings. Even those older adults with advanced dementia feel a sense of accomplishment when creating.
What Research on Art, Creativity, and Art Therapy Shows
Most of the research on art therapy started in 1956 with the Seattle Longitudinal Study. After following participants of the study for nearly 50 years, scientists concluded that having a flexible, creative mind helps ward off cognitive decline in your 70s and 80s. It also helps to promote overall healthy aging.
The Seattle Longitudinal Study also found that the majority of older adults who participated in the project experienced an overall improvement in wellness, which was measured in several ways:
- Stronger immunity
- Fewer trips to the doctor
- Lower incidence of falls
- Less use of prescription medications
Other research shows that people who actively participate in art projects during retirement have a positive outlook on life. It’s likely linked to the sense of purpose and productivity derived from creating.
The team at Sunrise of Shelby Township, MI hosted an art show for the residents and team members of the community to commemorate the talent of one of our residents, Harriet.
Harriet discovered her knack for oil painting at the age of 40. Since then, she has created a number of stunning pieces of artwork that showcase her fascination for nature and landscapes. To support Harriet on her special day, members of her family took her shopping for a new dress and one of her sons even flew in from Colorado to be there.
That afternoon, residents in the community were proudly greeted by Harriet who was excited to showcase her artworks to her neighbors, family, and team members. Attendees of the art show were serenaded by a violinist and were also offered wine and cheese to complete the experience.
Tips for Using Art to Create Purposeful Days
Here are a few easy ways to live a more artful lifestyle at any age, including during retirement:
- Try out a variety of classes: Don’t limit yourself to just those art mediums you are familiar with. Instead, explore a variety of workshops, including online. Many art workshops are offered by businesses and organizations ranging from art supply stores and restaurants to parks and botanical gardens. By looking around, you’ll probably find some fun, new classes. Many of these include supplies in the cost of registration. This is a great way to try your hand at a few different types of art projects without having to invest a lot of extra money. Then you can continue to develop your skills in those mediums you find most enjoyable. Taking different art classes is also a great way to make new friends and expand your social circle.
- Combine favorite pastimes with art: Another idea is to incorporate art into those hobbies you already enjoy. For example, if you love to explore local botanical gardens for interesting new flowers and fauna, snap a few pictures of your favorites with your cell phone. Then try to recreate them at home using paint or pastels. Or if you are a nature lover, consider setting up a trail camera to watch the feathered or furry occupants of your own backyard. Then, take it a step further. Start saving photos to create a field journal. You can also sketch your visitors with colored pencils or watercolor pens.
- Expand your view of art: Remember that art encompasses many forms. Researching and planning a new garden or designing window boxes is a form of art. Creative writing is another artistic avenue. Write your autobiography. Develop a screen play on a topic you enjoy. The idea is to begin seeing art as more than just paint and brushes.