We should all pay more attention to communication with art, says a medical study published in the British Medical Journal. Visiting only one exhibition a year can add several years to our lives.

A team of researchers from University College London surveyed 6,710 adult Englishmen aged 50 years and over to see if there was a link between a passion for art and mortality. The study revealed how often the participants visited museums, art galleries, exhibitions, theatre performances, concerts or operas.

Researchers found that even those who had little contact with art (attended one or two cultural events a year) had a 14% lower risk of early death. And the more often the study participants went to cultural events, the better. Those who attended exhibitions and shows every few months or more had a 31% lower risk of early death.

The research has been part of a wave of recent studies that are looking for a link between touching art and improving health. Analyses carried out in Denmark and the UK over the past decade link the presence of art in hospitals with improved patient health and positive treatment outcomes. Last year, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts launched an initiative that allows doctors to schedule free “wellness” visits to patients through the Canadian health system.

A connoisseur. Cover of “The Saturday Evening Post” (January 13, 1962). Norman Rockwell 1962

The study, published this week, also took into account socio-economic factors. Scientists have recognized that life expectancy can be linked to the higher social status of those people who usually visit museums, exhibitions and art galleries. “The results are partly explained by differences in social and economic status among those who are or are not involved in the arts. This is consistent with research suggesting that participation in cultural events is socially conditioned,” the report says.

However, some statistical correlations between cultural activity and longevity have been found to be independent of socio-economic factors. Simply put, scientists argue that their “results show that cultural participation is linked to longevity”.