Commentary by Jeff McDermott
I hope you enjoyed the holidays to the hilt, but now it’s time to atone for those excesses with some New Year’s resolutions.
Don’t be afraid! You can tackle a host of physical and mental health issues with – as they say on the internet – this one simple trick: Increase your intake of the performing arts.
Among many examples, an analysis by Harvard researchers found that music can “enhance human health and performance” and that attendance at cultural events has “a surprisingly powerful effect on mortality.”
“In all,” they concluded, “people who attended concerts and plays ‘rarely or never’ were 1.57 times more likely to die during the study period than people who attended frequently. Occasional concertgoers were in between.”
OK, that’s a bit dark. To state such findings in a sunnier way, experts at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center reported that music can make us healthier by:
• Reducing stress and anxiety
• Decreasing pain
• Improving immune functioning
• Aiding memory
• Helping us exercise
Although the mechanisms are not entirely clear from a scientific standpoint, some of these beneficial effects could be explained by the fact that music can boost the brain’s production of the hormone dopamine.
“This increased dopamine production helps relieve feelings of anxiety and depression,” wrote one medical blogger. “Music is processed directly by the amygdala, which is the part of the brain involved in mood and emotions.”
Other studies have found that chronic illness and post-surgical healing outcomes can be improved by creative pursuits of various kinds, including music, dance, visual arts and expressive writing.
To be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t quit smoking or go to the gym more often. But if you resolve to experience more performing arts in this new year, I’d be happy to offer some suggestions.
Jeffrey C. McDermott is president/CEO of the Center for the Performing Arts and the Great American Songbook Foundation.