Make Art...It's Good For You

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It isn’t broccoli, meditation or Zumba. Those are good for you too, but I am talking about art. You should make art. Seriously, try it and I am confident your health and well-being will improve. You might be saying to yourself, “I can’t even draw a stick figure.” So what! Art is more than drawing, painting or sculpture. Art is more than poetry, classical music or ballet. Art is making. It is the creative expression of one’s self. We all make art and it is the process of making that improves our physical and mental well-being. 

Science is beginning to better understand how making art affects our brains. Through neural imagery and other advances, scientists can observe and measure changes in the brain during the process of making art. The Connection between Art, Healing, and Public Health, published by the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed more than 100 studies about the impact of art on your health and your ability to heal yourself. These studies included everything from music and writing to dance and the visual arts. Here are just a few highlights that reveal the importance of creative expression.  

Making art increases brain connectivity and plasticity. Every time we engage in a new or complex activity, our brains create new connections between brain cells. Our brain’s ability to grow connections and change throughout our life time is termed brain plasticity or neuroplasticity.  Dr. Lawrence Katz, an internationally recognized pioneer in neuron regeneration research, found that mental decline was due mainly to the loss of communication between brain cells, not from the death of brain cells themselves. Dr. Katz coined the phrase “neurobics” to describe brain exercises that use your senses in new and novel ways. Making art is the workout your brain will love.

The brain chemistry behind self-esteem and the sense of accomplishment are becoming better known to researchers, as well. Creating art increases the “feel good” neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Dopamine is sometimes referred to as the “motivation molecule” that boosts drive, focus and concentration. It is the rush associated with the “I did it” feeling of accomplishment. Dopamine stimulates the creation of new neurons and prepares your brain for learning. Increased levels of dopamine wards off depression and helps protect the brain from aging.

The effects of art, music and writing can also be seen in the body as well as the brain. A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine used writing as a form of treatment for HIV patients. The results included “improvements of the CD4+ lymphocyte counts.” In plain speak, the act of writing actually impacted the cells inside the patient’s body and improved their immune system.

The Mimbres Region Arts Council (MRAC), along with hundreds of other organizations across the country, is celebrating October as National Arts and Humanities month. MRAC is encouraging everyone to participate in making art this month. Join us on October 27, at 6 pm in the HUB Plaza marketplace for a special evening of hands-on art making activities and a presentation on MRAC’s outreach programs including Fine Arts Fridays and the Mural program. It will be a celebration of the arts in our community that includes music and the visual arts. This FREE event will be open to the public. We want everyone to nurture their neural plasticity, increase their dopamine levels and improve their health and well-being by seeing, hearing and making art.

This article appeared in the Silver City Daily Press as part of the New Mexico Department of Health’s “Wishing You Well” series of contributed articles promoting healthy lifestyles.   – Reprinted with permission.