The World Health Organisation (WHO) has looked at the ways in which the arts can prevent and treat illness across all demographics.
Didgeridoo lessons, choir singing, dancing and even calligraphy each provide benefits to your health, according to a major study.
The benefits of singing and dancing with the whole family
The WHO’s European branch looked at 900 publications, including reviews covering 3,000 further studies, in English and Russian from January 2000 to May 2019.
Among those which showed ‘a robust impact of the arts’ on health’ included dance for PTSD to relieve tension in muscles and group-knitting to encourage socialising in dementia patients.
Activities such as choir singing, art-making, expressive writing, and group drumming can reduce mental distress, depression, and anxiety in adults, the evidence suggested.
Didgeridoo and singing improve childhood asthma!
One highlighted study showed didgeridoo lessons for asthmatic Australian children improved respiratory function in males.
Similarly, singing has a number of similarities to breathing techniques used to treat respiratory diseases by clearing airways, the report said.
Choir singing can provide distraction for addicts, reduce depression and provide social opportunities for dementia patients.
Calligraphy training was shown to reduce stress in children who survived the 2008 China earthquakes.
It was also found to decrease hyperarousal, a side effect of PTSD which causes angry outbursts, panic attacks or anxiety.
Waltzing was found to be as effective as aerobic exercise for improving functional capacity in patients with chronic heart failure.
Dance was also found to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder build a healthy relationship with their body by helping them counter ‘body armouring’, when the muscles tense due to stress, and reducing stiffness. In patients with diabetes, it has the ability to reduce blood pressure and help control blood sugar levels.
Music, group knitting, pottery, and shared reading can support the maintenance of social skills in people with dementia, as well as affirming a sense of identity.
The arts can also be supportive in palliative or end-of-life care by enabling a patient to emotionally express themselves.
Didgeridoo lessons in Australian schools improved respiratory function in males. The review said the lessons also helped improve adherence to asthma management, by raising awareness.
Dr Piroska Ostlin, WHO regional director for Europe, said: ‘The examples cited in this groundbreaking WHO report show ways in which the arts can tackle “wicked” or complex health challenges such as diabetes, obesity and mental ill-health.
‘They consider health and well-being in a broader societal and community context, and offer solutions that common medical practice has so far been unable to address effectively.’
Lead author of the study, Dr Daisy Fancourt, University College London, said: ‘This report highlights that engagement with the arts can affect social determinants of health, improving social cohesion and reducing social inequalities and inequities.
‘Crucially, the arts can support the prevention of illness and promotion of good health.’
The benefits of singing to your baby
Teacher and school choir leader Marie Van Gend, who has a PhD in music, agrees that singing is an ancient and instinctual art.
“The act of singing to your child emotionally settles you, and there is this thing called synchronicity, where your baby and you end up in the same emotional space. It’s quite magic.”
“Lullabies are more than just the singing to a baby — there are incredible positive impacts on both the parent and the child,” she says.
“There’s this incredible bonding, a warmth and a primal response to singing to a baby that we mustn’t lose. It’s critical, really.”
She says singing to a baby could also help boost development, and a number of studies have outlined the benefits.
What concerns Maria though, is how people are now turning to their playlist instead of singing to their young ones.
“I have noticed instead of singing to their babies, people were using their phones and using playlists, things like that.”
“It’s the intent. It doesn’t matter what you sing — it’s the way you sing it, the act of singing and holding your child.”
Do you sing and dance around the house with the kids?
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