Creativity May Be the Key to Aging Healthily

New research has been conducted on the benefits of creativity when it comes to aging healthily.

Photo courtesy of Samuel Castro

As a child, I remember art being an escape to an entirely new reality. Art can feel like an escape from the world and it is a breath of fresh air for the artist. There are many ways to hone in your creativity but my favorite way to do this was painting and embroidering with my grandmother. She taught me how to embroider and almost every time I saw her she had a wooden hoop and a needle in her hand as she embroidered birds onto a cotton piece of fabric. She recalled that as she got older it was a way for her to relax and enjoy her time. Only now do I realize how important this act of creativity was for her. 

Many researchers have been looking at the effects of creativity and healthy aging, which show promising data and results. This article will discuss the potential creativity has in aging and how it can help make the process and transitions a little easier. What exactly does this mean though and how can we understand the process? 

The benefits of creative self-expression

The National Institute of Aging cites that research shows that the use of any type of creative outlet can reduce many stressful emotions like loneliness and depression among senior citizens. Lisa Onken, Ph.D, commented, “By examining the mechanisms through which arts participation may provide benefits to health and well-being, and by studying arts participation with scientific rigor, we hope to establish a firm basis on which to develop programs to improve the health and well-being of older people. As these studies continue, we expect the results to show us how we can implement cost-effective, community-based programs that benefit older people.” 

The emotions that are most commonly experienced are: 

  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased independence and well-being
  • Better cognitive and functional performance
  • Better memory function
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Lower stress levels

The benefits of creativity are massive and many older people have discovered that their stressful emotions have been alleviated. The National Endowment for the Arts reported in a study that “community-based arts programs improve the quality of life for older Americans. The NEA initiated the study, directed by the late Dr. Gene Cohen.” 

Not only are there mental benefits for many aging seniors, but physical benefits as well. Many programs have been recording benefits in:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing stress hormones
  • Increasing “happy hormones” 

Crafting creates happiness

The first section gave us a small rundown of the benefits of creativity, but there are different sectors within creative fields that seem to work on different aspects of aging seniors. Many programs have been using crafting to encourage creativity among their patients. Quilting, knitting, and needlepoint have been some of the more popular crafty activities that keep them mentally focused and engaged. According to Brightview Senior Living, “This stimulates different parts of the brain and can reduce an individual's chance of developing mild cognitive impairment by as much as 30-50%.” 

Crafting such as woodwork can also create the same effect and can cause happiness among the creators. When the brain is stimulated and in a “flow state” dopamine is released. What’s interesting about this is that it’s an easy way to get these hormones flowing and creative.

Knitting is popular among many seniors and the benefits are great! Photo courtesy of Nick Casale.

The power of creative writing 

Another form of expression is writing, which has proved to be one of the more popular activities for aging seniors. Writing can offer a wide range of benefits, especially when managing trauma. It has even been said that writing can strengthen the immune system. It’s no wonder people have enjoyed this type of creative outlet. There are many ways you can write to express yourself and your creativity. Many people use writing for: 

  • Recording daily experiences
  • Recalling lifetime memories
  • Processing grief and difficult emotions
  • Reflecting on gratitude 

Dance is the way to a happy heart

Creative movement is great, especially because it involves soft movements for the body, which can feel healing to the body. Many residents enjoy ballroom dancing and report that it creates ease when they’re dancing. The National Institute of Health conducted studies from around the world that concluded significant improvements in balance, muscle strength, and endurance. There are other aspects and functions that have also improved from dancing. 

Healing with the power of music

Music therapy is no stranger to this blog and we have talked about it many times, of course, we had to add it to the list of creative activities one can do when aging healthily. While in this case, it isn’t necessarily labeled as music therapy, it can act that way for many of its listeners. Many people enjoy playing instruments, singing, or writing their own musical pieces. These are just a few ways that music can be a benefit when it comes to creativity. 

Studies show that music impacts the brain and its functions. Music can be especially helpful to those who have dementia. We have mentioned this in a few past articles, but music therapy for dementia patients can be extremely useful and create a safe space for many. When choosing music associated with positive life events and memories, create a place where the patient feels safe. 

Music is for everyone and offers an array of benefits like: 

  • Enhanced immune response
  • Decrease in stress hormones
  • Improves lung capacity
  • Strong feelings of connectedness 

Painting passions 

Painting is a popular creative activity that is well-adaptable to anyone. Many of the activities are creative, but painting has the added benefit of color therapy. Whether you’ve painted all your life or are just getting started, this activity is forgiving and embraces all walks of life. In fact, Renée Alberts, a formal therapist, and volunteer has turned her sole focus to painting and has raved about the benefits. Alberts comments, “One is rewarded by the sense of immediacy and freshness and the vivacity of color.” She adds, “With some people, it’s a compulsion. If I see something that stirs emotions, I have to paint it.”

Many senior centers have formed relationships with local art groups. The creative outlet and its benefits are too great to ignore. 

Painting has been a favorite pastime for many people, and as you grow older the benefits are unmatched. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Borba.

Local resources and inspirations

There are a lot of local resources that you can connect with in your city when it comes to creative outlets. Many of the local resources can be found on a city page, listing groups that are active within your city. It can be great to connect with a group of all ages and enjoy the creative process. Not only is this fun, but it’s benefiting you in the long run. 

These local groups can also serve as inspiration for you and your own personal creative practice. There are many impressionable and inspirational stories that have been told by people who have experiences with creativity and its link to healthy aging. After reading this article, what creative outlet are you most excited to try? Let us know and have a great time creating! 

Brandee Robles
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