Nursing homes offering activities like writing seminars, poker nights, and pottery lessons might just be on to something.
In a study of 1,349 older male veterans, creativity–serving as an indication of openness, the willingness to try new things and accept new ideas–seems to have predicted a longer lifespan. The Journal of Aging and Health study, which followed the men over the course of 18 years (but did not include any women), found that creative thinking may have led to a 12% reduction in mortality risk.
There are a few possible reasons for this, the study’s authors say. For one thing, creativity requires the engagement of multiple neural networks, perhaps strengthening those networks as the brain ages. In other words, creative activities may act as exercises that keep the brain fit. People who exhibit creativity also seem to cope with stress better, finding solutions to stressful situations rather than being overwhelmed by them. And other studies this year have also shown a connection between openness and reduced metabolic risk.
Hobbies or other activities in which we create something new–be that music, food, or furniture–require problem-solving skills and imagination. Such tasks are often relaxing, and even when they take a lot of energy, they are usually fulfilling. It stands to reason, then, that creativity could reduce our stress levels, improve our overall health, and increase our longevity. Get out the finger paints.