Youngsters enjoy arts and crafts in summer camp, in grade school, at parties and anywhere there is a drop in activity. And yet for decades thereafter, adults often become so busy with careers, families and responsibilities that their creative zones remain unnourished. But something new is rippling along the frontier for older adults; arts and crafts programs that encourage, teach and provide expressive outlets.
Once hard to find, classes have been cropping up in senior facilities and art centers that target the mature audience. They range from classic oil painting to fiber arts to drama to poetry and everything in between. Many workshops are free or at a minimal cost and a growing number of funders have been evaluating the benefits to extend financial support. And there is more research validating these benefits.
Gene Cohen, MD, PhD, Founder and Director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities of the George Washington University designed a study that looked at adults aged 65-100 and divided them in two different groups; the control group actively engaged in cultural activities and creative projects while the other group remained more passive. The results showed that the engaged group became healthier; they required less medicine, less doctor visits, were prone to less falls, were less lonely and enjoyed better morale. As a result, Dr. Cohen states that it “reflects important health promotion and prevention effects and a reduction of risk factors driving the need for long-term care” and "Anything that stimulates the brain, reduces stress, and promotes a more balanced emotional response will trigger positive changes in the body." The significance is not just about the benefits to the individual, that’s the small picture albeit a valued one, but the bigger picture is the reduced impact to our health care system as a whole. And more studies have proven this positive association between the arts and healing.
Daniel Monti, Executive and Medical Director at Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, evaluated women with different types of cancer participating in a support group called Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy. The group used meditation training with art projects, from sketching self-portraits to sculpting with clay. Women in the study reduced their stress levels and generally improved their health by experiencing less pain, better sleep, and fewer general physical complaints. National Institutes of Health took notice and provided Monti an additional grant for a study with more cancer patients to enable a close look at specific markers in the immune system.
And the value of involvement in the arts is not just for your health. There is a striking association for successful scientists to enjoy creative pursuits. The famous astronomer and physicist Galileo was also an artist, craftsman and musician and Leonardo Da Vinci contributed to the fields of anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics as well as excelling in his capacity as a painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Dr. Peter Mitchell, a Nobel laureate in Chemistry, observed that for most scientists to be creative in their work, they also must “become craftspeople as well as art people." The Scientists Project, a long term study, evaluated a diverse group of scientists and discovered that the most successful scientists did have something in common; many creative avocations and the belief that it stimulated their mental acuity for science. In Arts and Crafts: Keys to Scientific Creativity (), Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein state “The least successful scientists had the fewest avocations and universally expressed the opinion that these avocations took valuable time and energy away from their scientific work.” This study demonstrates the success of integrating personal and professional values, embracing creative opportunities and being able to synergize all of them to generate success.
In the final analysis, the pursuit of engaging in arts and crafts has important benefits to our physical health as well as to our mental acuity. It offers value to our lives in ways that we may not fully realize. There are many opportunities to reach out for creative projects; for supplies and inspiration try your local craft store, pick up some books at the library, search youtube.com for video tutorials, check out classes given in your neighborhood or just create that whimsical dream with whatever you have in your closet. Now is the time to be creative and to be healthy.
The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson