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Regular Outings to Theater, Concerts or Museums May Help Prevent Depression


Depression affects an estimated one in six people at some point in their lives.
Older adults may be particusamuel-zeller-74983-unsplash.jpglarly vulnerable because of experiencing losses, living alone or poor health. A new study finds that engaging in cultural activities such as visiting museums or going to the theatre on a regular basis can help prevent depression.

Previous research has identified factors like social support and physical activity to help prevent depression, but this is the first study looking specifically at the value of participating in cultural activities.

Researchers Daisy Fancourt, Ph.D., and Urszula Tymoszuk, Ph.D, at the University College of London, worked with data on more than 2,000 adults 50 years old and older in a long-term study of aging. Participants were free from depression at the start of the study. They looked at risk of developing depression over 10 years. The study specifically looked at visits to theater, concerts, opera, the movies, art galleries, exhibitions or museums.


They found that engaging with culture at least every few months was associated with a reduced risk of developing depression, and more frequent attendance was associated with lower risk. Over a 10-year period, people attending every few months had a 32 percent lower risk of developing depression and people who attended every month or more had a 48 percent lower risk.

About three fourths study participants said they engaged in cultural activities at least once a year. About a quarter engaged in cultural activities less than once a year, including 10 percent who never engaged. The study authors suggest that involvement in cultural activities have four characteristics that may contribute to depression prevention.

  • It generally Includes some social interaction.
  • It helps reduce sedentary behavior—it gets people up and moving and out of the house.
  • The activity itself may produce a positive emotional response, such as the immediate emotionatravis-grossen-552169-unsplash.jpgl benefits of music. 
  • It generally involves some cognitive stimulation and engagement. 

The benefits of cultural engagement persisted even taking into account differences in age, gender, level of wealth and education. The association also remained after taking into account exercise, level of social interaction with friends and family, organized social interaction like community groups and civic engagement.

Fancourt, study lead a uthor, said in a statement: “Depression is a major issue affecting millions of people. If we are starting to feel low or isolated then cultural engagement is something simple that we can do to proactively help with our own mental health, before it gets to the point where we need professional medical help.” Fancourt cautioned, however, the “such activities on their own won’t treat depression.” Treating depression typically involves using talk therapy and/or medication.


Fancourt, D., Tymoszuk, U. Cultural engagement and incident depression in older adults: evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2018


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