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Making Art Keeps You Sharp, a New Study Shows

If you want to live to 100, eat your veggies. If you want to keep your wits about you too, make art.

by Beckett Mufson
Jun 20 2017, 7:23pm

Compostie via Pixabay, Wikimedia Commons

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, as they say, but painting an apple a day might be better advice if you're looking to preserve your mental vitality as you age.

A new Mayo Clinic report found the risk of new-onset cognitive impairment decreases by as much at 28% in people who make art at least once a week, versus those who only hit the craft table two or fewer times a month. That statistic includes amateurs. Efforts to prevent cognitive decline help combat what Alzheimer's Disease International refers to as "the global dementia epidemic" in an expansive 2015 report.

Researchers led by Yonas E. Geda, MD, MSc, of the Mayo Clinic Translational Neuroscience and Aging Program performed neurocognitive assessments every 15 months on 1,929 cognitively normal participants aged 70 and older over the course of four years. The study also examined computer use, social activities, and playing games. Computer use was the only activity with a comparable effect to art. These results were found among both carriers and non-carriers of APOE4, a genetic risk factor that can lead to Alzheimers.

The study, published in the January 30 edition of JAMA Neurology, adds to an increasing pool of research into the heath and therapeutic benefits of the arts. In 2015, the National Endowment for the Arts touted research indicating, "the arts have the amazing capacity to increase social engagement and improve health, cognitive functioning, quality of life, and longevity." A 2014 study in the from the University of Rotterdam Medical Center suggests this has long been the case, as artists and musicians have historically enjoyed the same life expectancy as the monied elite.

The moral of the story—stop procrastinating and get back to your notebook: your mental health could depend on it.

Read the full study on the JAMA website here.

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