Attending a GOLDIE In Conversation could be as good for your heart as 28 minutes on the treadmill

Attending a GOLDIE In Conversation could be as good for your heart as 28 minutes on the treadmill

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Encore Tickets commissioned Daniel Richardson, a Professor of Cognitive Psychology at University College London to investigate the benefits of attending a live performance for the ageing population. And guess what it’s good for you in more ways than you may have imagined.

When was the last time you went to the theatre, visited a gallery or treated yourself to a live music performance? If I told you that there is a direct and measurable link between experiencing live performance, art and cultural events and mental and physical health benefits, particularly for the over 50s would you be surprised?

Kieran Fox, Head of Consumer at Encore Tickets says “In an inherently digital world that we live in, sharing cultural experiences is one of the key ways we can reconnect with each other socially.”

The report, released this week, shares compelling evidence for engaging with cultural activity to keep healthy as we age. And lead author of the study, Daniel Richardson, comments “these types of cultural engagement are inherently social, and studies have been shown that experiencing them regularly does reduce reported loneliness…Loneliness is key determinate of mental and physical health, especially in the ageing population.”

The data analysed was drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing of around 4000 adults over the age of 50 (ELSA; Steptoe et al, 2013). The researchers studied participants’ physical and emotional health across a ten-year span from 2004 to 2014. Almost three-quarters of the participants reported going to the theatre, concerts or the opera at least once during that period, but they varied greatly in the degree of engagement.

The chair of the Arts Council England has claimed that if we increased the degree that people engaged with the arts, it could save the NHS half a billion pounds a year (Bazalgette, 2014). The evidence is clear enough, he argues, that GPs should consider ‘socially prescribing’ cultural activities to their patients.

It doesn’t surprise me that experiencing culture can have measurable effects on social and emotional wellbeing; people in the ELSA who were engaged in cultural activities every few months reduced their risk of developing depression by a third, and those that went once a month or more had halved their risk (Fancourt & Tymoszuk, 2018).

However, I was amazed to discover that visiting the theatre or engaging in cultural activities is a form of cardiovascular workout. In a 2017 study the audience watching a performance of Dreamgirls the musical were attached to technology to measure their heart rate. It was found that the audience’s hearts spent an average of 28 mins beating in an elevated range between 50% to 70% of their maximum heart rate, this is the zone identified by the British Heart Foundation as the optimal heart rate to promote cardio fitness and stamina. So, although they were seated for the performance, audience members spent an average of 28 minutes engaged in healthy cardio exercise.

Physical Health ‘Frailty’ is a broad measure that includes mobility and general health, the ability to perform basic tasks of daily life. Rogers and Fancourt (2019) found that people over 50 in the ELSA who engaged in cultural activities every few months or more were less likely to become frail over time; people were 30% more likely to become frail by the age of 80 if they never engaged in cultural activities, compared to those who engaged every few months

I love the term “collective effervescence” which was coined by the sociologist Durkheim in 1912 to describe the positive effect of sharing a live performance with other people. The very fact of getting together to enjoy a joint experience is an exceptionally powerful stimulant; we spark off each other generating a kind of electricity from our closeness which creates collective wellbeing, resulting in people liking each other more and acting pro-socially.

In other words, the coordinated physiological response seen during a live cultural event can help to break down pre-existing social barriers and bring people together. Scientists have found that when people watched live stand-up comedy their threshold for enduring pain was increased, indicating that their bodies had produced endorphins. Critically, this effect only occurred when engaged in the activity with other people, not when alone, though those people could be either friends or strangers.

Crucial to all of these beneficial effects appear to be the group social experience. At GOLDIE we love any chance to see art, dance performances, go to the theatre or attend talks. We are keen to start a programme of events for our readers to harness the benefits of shared experiences. (Honestly, we only want to do monthly in-conversations to be good for your health not to have a chance to meet up, share a laugh, have fun or make new friends!)

Over the course of the last year we have organised group events to share Art, discuss Ageism in the Press, visit a fashion exhibition, and get dressed in gold to parade about. This week we invite you to join us In Conversation with Ashton Applewhite at The Devonshire Club to discuss her book This Chair Rocks.  We are planning comedy nights, music festivals, fashion shows and a whole host of other get-togethers to increase your health and wellbeing.

Engaging with a large number of other people, sharing a cultural experience with others has far-reaching benefits beyond enriching our minds; there is the benefit of a glass of champagne and having something to put on your Instagram the next day too!

As ever we value your input so do tell us if you are planning an event we can share with other GOLDIE readers or you have a suggestion for GOLDIE get-togethers.

Hope to see some of you at the Devonshire Club this week, or at future GOLDIE happenings.

Buy tickets for Ageing Rocks Thursday 23rd May here:

Thanks to Rebecca Carey, PR Encore Tickets, for sharing the research with us.

Encore is the UK’s leading independent ticket provider and has sold more than 30million tickets to theatre fans from over 170 countries. It is an official ticketing partner for more than 160 theatres, shows and attractions in London, helping them sell over £1bn of tickets since launch. Based in London and staffed by 150 theatre and live experience fans, Encore has 19 years of expertise helping Londoners and tourists enjoy the best of the culture. So if you need to source tickets in London you know where to go.

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