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Add the Performing Arts to Your Healthy Living Resolution

by on January 26, 2016

Each year when January rolls around, many among us make a New Year’s resolution. Some of the most popular resolutions are health-related, from joining a gym to starting a new diet. But this year, I have a suggestion for a different way to improve your health in 2016 – by participating in the performing arts.

The educational, cultural and social benefits of the performing arts are widely acknowledged, but more and more research is showing a correlation between attending theatre, music and dance performances and improved physical and mental health.

There are a number of ways the performing arts have been shown to affect our physical health. For example, in 2013 a team of researchers at McGill University led by musician-turned-neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin reviewed 400 research papers on the neurochemistry of music, and revealed some interesting findings about the physical effects of music.

The research papers they examined showed that listening to music can boost our immune systems by increasing the production of antibodies and white cells. The researchers also found that music can help reduce stress hormones, and can play a role in regulating heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.

Those are impressive fringe benefits for attending a rock concert!

Plus, people who attend performing arts events tend to report they feel better overall than those who do not. According to one 2010 report conducted by Hill Strategies called The Arts and Individual Well-Being in Canada, 58 per cent of those who attended a play in the past year reported they are in very good or excellent health, compared to 46 per cent of respondents who did not see a theatrical presentation in the previous year.

The same report noted the positive impact the performing arts can have on mental health as well, finding that 67 per cent of theatre attendees reported very good or excellent mental health, compared to 61 per cent of those who did not go to the theatre.

Increasingly, researchers are finding that experiencing live performance may help improve mental health issues, including anxiety and stress. Based on his research, Mr. Levitin found compelling evidence that music affects neurochemical mechanisms, meaning it could be used to manage areas like mood or stress levels, while also aiding in social bonding.

The Arts and Individual Well-Being in Canada report also draws attention to another great benefit of participating in the performing arts: it contributes to the health of the community. People who attended a performing arts event within the previous year were much more likely to volunteer, were less likely to feel trapped in a daily routine, and were more likely to report a strong satisfaction in life than those who did not.

A 2012 survey conducted on behalf of the Department of Canadian Heritage found that 92 per cent of Canadians believe arts and culture make a community a better place to live. That statistic serves as an excellent reminder of how fortunate we are here in Fredericton to have such a wide range of performing arts offerings, all of which can play a role in better health and well-being, while also providing us with a healthier community.

Just look at the upcoming FROSTival events calendar for examples of our city’s robust performing arts scene. This January and February, Frederictonians will have the opportunity to see music festivals like Shivering Songs, attend campfire sing-a-longs with local musicians, and experience Theatre New Brunswick’s groundbreaking new play Returning Fire.

At the Playhouse, we are proud to offer performances, workshops and activities every weekend throughout FROSTival, including a variety of dance, music and theatre events. These are just a few examples, and I encourage you to browse FROSTival’s complete calendar for many performing arts activities that will help you start your year off on a high note.

Maintaining or improving our mental and physical wellbeing is important to us all; and developing a healthy community resonates as well. Perhaps participating in the performing arts is one component in reaching these goals – in January, and throughout the year.

Tim Yerxa is the Executive Director of the Fredericton Playhouse.

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