And the more often people engage with the arts, the lower their risk of death, the report found.
Previous studies have found that engaging with the arts can improve a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, including depression, dementia, chronic pain, and frailty. But whether arts engagement can improve survival remains unclear.
So researchers at University College London set out to explore the association between different frequencies of arts engagement and mortality.
Their findings are based on data from more than 6000 adults in England aged 50 years and over who were taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
Frequency of arts activities, including going to the theatre, concerts, opera, museums, art galleries, and exhibitions, was measured at the start of the study in 2004-5.
Participants were then followed up for an average of 12 years, during which time deaths were recorded using NHS mortality data.
After taking account of a range of economic, health and social factors, the researchers found that people who engaged in arts activities once or twice a year had a 14 per cent lower risk of dying at any time during the follow-up period than those who never engaged (3.5 deaths per 1000 person years vs 6 deaths per 1000 person years).
People who engaged in arts activities more frequently (every few months or more) had a 31 per cent lower risk of dying (2.4 deaths per 1000 person years).
Everyone should have the chance to participate in cultural activities, said the researchers.
They point out that the very people who have the most to gain from participating in the arts, such as the poorest and those with depression or loneliness, are least likely to do so, and say work must now be done “to ensure that the health benefits of the arts are accessible to those who would benefit most.”
The study should also add weight to growing concerns about the decline in arts subjects and music in schools and universities, they add.