Boost Your Brain with a Museum Visit

A new study conducted by Art Fund in the UK showed that 1-2 hours of leisure activity daily significantly reduced stress and added to one’s sense of purpose and meaning in life. The national art charity surveyed 2,000 participants and found that 62% in the leisure group expressed feeling satisfied with life while only 39% in the non-leisure group had these same positive feelings. Sixty-three percent of the leisure group felt their life was worthwhile compared to 42% in the non-leisure group. So, if you aren’t in the former group already, it is time to figure out how to make that shift and incorporate more leisure activities into your daily schedule.

The pandemic has impacted all our daily schedules. Many have had to dramatically increase their workload. At the same time, others have faced this existential crisis and come out with an added appreciation for leisure activities and hobbies. In fact, six out of 10 Americans reported starting a new activity during the pandemic. The most popular hobbies include reading (61%), baking or cooking (36%), gardening (30%), meditation (29%) and writing (26%). Pickleball participation grew to 4.2 million in the U.S. with an astounding rate of growth of 21% in 2020. The popular online puzzle Wordle first appeared in October 2021 and rapidly gathered millions of daily players. It was recently acquired by The New York Times, and it is fun so I hope you will try it.

Today, I invite you to consider adding a museum or gallery to your list of regular activities. The Art Fund study showed that while 63% of respondents said they have used a museum or gallery as a way to decrease stress, only 6% said they had visited one regularly once a month. This finding is particularly noteworthy in England where the survey was conducted because 55% of the population live within walking distance to a museum. We are fortunate in Beverly Hills that Frieze Los Angeles is taking place this week, celebrating works from more than 100 galleries. Additionally, we have world-class institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty Center, The Broad, Hammer Museum, Natural History Museum, MOCA Grand Ave, and more a short distance away.

Authors Chatterjee and Noble in their book “Museums, Health and Well-Being” gathered together scientific and anecdotal evidence and concluded that museums benefit health and well-being in a range of ways, by providing:

• Positive social experiences and reduced social isolation;

• Learning opportunities and the chance to develop new skills;

• Calming experiences which decrease anxiety levels;

• Positive emotions such as hope, enjoyment and optimism;

• Self-esteem and a sense of self and community;

• Positive distractions from clinical environments;

• Increased opportunities for finding meaning;

• New experiences which may be inspirational or meaningful and

• Communication between families, caregivers and health professionals

Studies using functional MRI (fMRI) identify which part of the brain we are using. When viewers are looking at art they appreciate, they are activating their Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is a set of brain regions that is active during resting states when one is focused on internal mental-state processes, such as personal reflection, introspection, or imagining their future.

Last and certainly not least, a recent article in the British Medical Journal compared behavior and longevity in 6,710 adults 50 and older over 14 years and showed that people who engaged (even once or twice per year) with receptive arts activities (going to museums, art galleries, exhibitions, theatre, concerts or the opera) lived longer. This finding could not be explained by other demographic, socioeconomic, health related, behavioral, and social factors.

We definitely owe it to ourselves to carve out the time to engage in these fun, meaningful and health promoting activities. In Beverly Hills, Frieze Los Angeles is coinciding with Kindness Week. Be kind to yourself, take a friend or go alone, but try to enjoy a gallery or museum visit soon.

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