Many of the issues faced in modern society are complex and multi-factorial, and require creative and collaborative approaches to find solutions. This not only includes challenges relating to health but also social, environmental and economic ones. Interdisciplinary research over the last few decades has provided compelling evidence that drawing on the potential of the Arts is likely to further our understanding of health and produce more effective health interventions.
There is a growing body of evidence for using arts-based approaches in healthcare. The Arts have been shown to open up lines of communication and improve patient engagement with their treatment, so it is no surprise that referrals to social prescribing programmes are rising – with a target of 900,000 social prescriptions by 2023/24 (NHS England)
Some ways that arts can directly benefit health include:
- regulation of emotions
- reduction of stress hormones
- enhanced immune function
- reduction of muscular tension
- development of fine motor skills
- cognitive stimulation – improved concentration and memory
- improved cardiovascular responses
- increased physical activity
- improved lung capacity
- development of coping strategies
Watch Dr Ranjita Dhital discussing the health benefits of getting creative in this 2 minute video:
There is a wealth of evidence for the role of the arts in the prevention, treatment and management of chronic and acute conditions; however, this is not widely known about or accessed. Studies have been conducted in numerous ways – from individual case studies and small-scale surveys to randomised controlled trials, longitudinal cohort studies, and community wide ethnographies. Research methods have included behavioural observation, interviews and psychological profiling, analysis of clinical records, measuring biological markers and neuro-imaging.
Much of the research is summarised in the Health Evidence Network synthesis report 67 (2019) ‘What is the evidence on the role of the Arts in improving health and well-being?’ This is the most comprehensive literature review of arts and health to date.
The report notes the way in which arts can provide a ‘holistic lens’ through which we can better understand conditions which are considered primarily physical (and are treated as such) – allowing movement towards the current trend of the mind-body connection and understanding of health on different levels other than the physical.