Smoking, jogging, stress eating, meditating — daily routines play a big role in overall health and well-being. But should creative routines also be on that list? Several studies suggest that creative work and creativity, at a minimum, can boost mental health while others argue that art has a physiological effect on the body. But before you swap the broccoli for chocolate and a paintbrush, how, exactly, does creating something affect your overall health? And are creative people more productive?
Many of the 20th century studies on creativity and health (and insights from authors like Mason Currey and Maya Angelou, artists like Beethoven or Mozart and scientists like Benjamin Franklin) stress a growing number of evidence-backed ways that show our health improves as we create. Like other health-boosting activities, many of the studies suggest that repeated creativity creates the biggest benefit. So how do creative daily rituals boost your health? Here are seven research-suggested reasons.
A growing amount of research focuses on the role creativity plays in psychological well-being, rather than physical health. As studies started to suggest a relationship between creativity and health, two researchers decided to look at 100 existing studies to put it all together. One of the several distinctions from the research, published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2010, was that the studies suggested participating in visual arts from pottery to photography to help reduce depression.
The study suggested that daily creative routines could help with the depression that’s often associated with long-term or serious illnesses. But further research points to creativity as staving off negative emotions even for healthy individuals. If you’ve ever felt a creative high after creating something after work or at your day job, you know creativity can help boost positive emotions and keep the negative ones at bay.
Adding creativity to our everyday lives can reduce stress and anxiety, too. Engaging in something creative can have a result similar to meditation by triggering the brain into creating more dopamine, a chemical in the brain that’s believed to be responsible for heightened excitement and productivity. This helps put us in a calmer, deeper state.
The effects of creativity aren’t solely in the brain. Creative daily routines are also good for the immune system.
In one study of immune-compromised HIV patients, researchers found that participants that engaged in emotional writing had increased levels of lymphocytes. The test suggested that creativity can have a physical effect on our bodies, too.
Not all creativity encourages a sedentary lifestyle behind a desk or easel. Some creative routines can boost health by encouraging more physical activity. Dance, long walks (or vigorous walks), for example, are an excellent example of a form of creativity that encourages physical health. Long walks aren’t the only daily rituals that can get you moving, however, with other types of creativity inadvertently encouraging exercise. Nature photography can encourage hiking, too. Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, find some time to incorporate creative routines to your day and increase your heart rate!
Studies show that individuals with dementia retain creative abilities longer than other skills. As such, art therapy is a popular aid for patients with dementia. But another study by the Mayo Clinic suggests that regularly engaging in creativity can actually delay cognitive decline. The researchers suggested that crafts from painting to quilting for middle-aged adults and older individuals may be able to help prevent or delay common cognitive conditions seen in old age.
Creativity can help reduce stress and depression while boosting the immune system and decreasing other health risks. But the role between health and creativity goes both ways. While creativity itself can help boost dopamine, research suggests creative moments come from a blend of dopamine and serotonin while stress hormones can reduce creativity.
That means that, while creativity is healthy, other healthy habits can, in turn, boost your creativity. Habits like getting enough sleep, regular exercise and a healthy diet (think more protein and fewer carbs) can help boost creativity. With healthy daily routines boosting creativity and creativity boosting health, creativity and health exist hand in hand. Healthy habits, both in the traditional sense and the creative one, can support that cycle.
You don’t have to look to famous creative people to prove that creativity is a healthy habit. Engaging in regular creative routines, from photography to adult coloring books, can help reduce stress and depression, delay cognitive impairment and even aid in fighting some health conditions.