A Cultured Man Is a Healthier, Happier Man: Study

Museums, art galleries, ballet may enhance men's well-being even more than women's

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HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 23, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Are you the type of man who enjoys going to concerts, art galleries and the theater? If so, here's some good news: A new Norwegian study suggests that you are more likely to enjoy life and be in better health than those who don't.

Both men and women who engaged in sports, religious and cultural events reported better health and satisfaction with life than those who were less engaged.

But men, especially, saw benefits. Men who attended cultural activities were 9 percent more likely to report being in good health than men who didn't attend, while women who attended cultural activities were 3 percent more likely to report good health.

Men who attended cultural activities were also 14 percent more likely to say they were satisfied with life, 13 percent less likely to have anxiety and 12 percent less likely to be depressed. Women also saw benefits, though they were less pronounced.

Those who took part in the activities either as a viewer or a participant "were ... more likely to report better and health and satisfaction with life -- and lower anxiety and depression -- than those who didn't participate," said study lead author Koenraad Cuypers, a research fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The study results held up even when researchers adjusted for factors that could influence the results, such as age, chronic disease, exercise, smoking, alcohol use, social and economic status and body mass index.

Although the research doesn't confirm that cultural and sports activities lead to better well-being, it does establish a link between the two, the researchers noted.

Happiness may seem like a tough thing to pin down, but psychology researchers have spent years trying to define it and figure out the best ways to attain it. The new study, which appears in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, surveyed more than 50,000 Norwegians.

Some of the activities involved watching but not participating: visits to museums, art exhibits, concerts, films and plays, along with attending church and sports events. Others, like playing sports, dancing, singing, working out, and going to club meetings, involved active participation.

Researchers found that those who watched or participated in these activities reported more happiness and a higher quality of life. Of those who said they participated in five or more cultural activities over six months, 91 percent said they were somewhat to very satisfied with life, compared to only about 84 percent of those who took part in just one activity.

In women, participating in clubs or associations, music, singing, dancing, attending the theater, working out or doing sports and enjoying outdoor activities was associated with good or very good health.

In men, on the other hand, engaging in parish (religious) activities was associated with good to very good health, along with participating in associations, outdoor activities, dancing and working out or sports.

What's going on? Study author Cuypers said it's possible that the activities may have a beneficial effect on the brain, the mind and the immune system. In the study, he and other researchers also noted other scientists have suggested cultural activities might also improve health by lowering stress levels.

But it's also possible that healthier and happier people simply get out more, said Shigehiro Oishi, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. "So we can't conclude from this study that now we know cultural activities are good for our health and happiness," Oishi said.

Watching or participating in cultural activities isn't always cheap or free, and it may be tough to coax people to get off their couches and go do something. But the study suggests that there's value in encouraging people to be active, Cuypers said.

And even if cultural participation might not do much for an individual's likelihood of being unhappy or ill, Cuypers said small changes can have a big effect across an entire population.

More information:

For a definition of the quality of life, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Koenraad Cuypers, MSc, research fellow, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway; and Shigehiro Oishi, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville; May 23, 2011, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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