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Art – either creating art or observing art – can benefit the body, brain, and heart. This applies to all kinds of art, including painting and drawing, writing, music, dancing, theater, and more. It also applies regardless of the skill of the artist; it is the process of creating and interpreting art, not artistic technique, that matters when healing with art. Read on to learn some of the ways that art can improve health.

Art Creates Empathy: A study done by The New School concluded that reading works of fiction enhance empathy or the theory of the mind. Making connections to other people and characters, and realizing that their thoughts are just as complicated as our own, fosters feelings of empathy. Both creating art and viewing or participating in art makes people more empathetic.

Art Relieves Stress: Being able to create and express feelings has been shown to reduce people’s stress levels significantly. Art Therapy: Journal of the Art Therapy Association reported that 45 minutes of creativity reduces the levels of cortisol. Cortisol is the fight-or-flight hormone that the body produces under stress, and it is seriously detrimental to heart health and the rest of the body as well. Art can reduce chronic stress and, therefore, reduce damage to the body.

Art Improves Memory: Engaging in certain forms of art, such as drawing or performing theater, can increase both memory and cognitive function, and can even lead to long-term neurocognitive growth. Observing art can also bring back memories; many patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can recall memories when they hear songs associated with those events. This speaks to how deeply rooted these music memories are in our brains.

Art Heals Mentally: Creating art can even overpower mental health struggles. Art therapy has been successful in treating patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, distress, low self-esteem, and inability to cope. Writing and storytelling is one of the most helpful forms of art here, but pretty much any medium can serve as a receptacle for troubling thoughts.