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Taking trips outside the home can help prevent depression in older adults

The study stresses the importance of ‘cultural engagement’ on mental health

Photo (c) Dean Mitchell - Getty Images
For the younger consumers, taking a trip outside the home typically doesn’t require a second thought. However, for older adults, life typically slows down, and going to the movies or museums may not happen as frequently.

Researchers from University College London recently found that these trips may have more weight than they appear. The group found that taking regular trips to experience “cultural engagement” is actually a key way for adults over 50 to prevent depression.

“Generally speaking, people know the benefits of eating their five-a-day and of exercise for their physical and mental health, but there is very little awareness that cultural activities also have similar benefits,” said lead author Dr. Daisy Fancourt. “People engage with culture for the pure enjoying of doing so, but we need to be raising awareness of their wider benefits too.”

Power of cultural engagement

Dr. Fancourt and her group analyzed responses from over 2,000 participants in an England-based study on aging.

The researchers were able to evaluate participants’ responses to various questionnaires and one-on-one interviews, all with the goal of better understanding their mental health, as well as how often they frequented art galleries, museums, the theater, or movies.

Regardless of any outside factors -- including wealth, age, gender, and education, among others -- taking the time to experience culture was found to have a positive effect on participants’ mental health.

Participants who took trips to the opera or to concerts more frequently were more likely to reap greater rewards. Those who went out once per month were nearly 50 percent less likely to develop depression, whereas those who went every few months were 32 percent less likely to develop depression.

“Cultural engagement is what we call a ‘perishable commodity,’” Dr Fancourt said. “For it to have long-term benefits for mental health, we need to engage in activities regularly. This is similar to exercise: going for a run on the first of January won’t still have benefits in October unless we keep going for runs.”

The researchers attribute the results to a combination of things, including light physical activity, social interaction, mental stimulation, and creativity.

Despite the positive findings, the researchers note that other forms of intervention are necessary for patients to get the most effective depression treatment. While engaging with culture is one piece of the puzzle, participants were also speaking with licensed therapists and some were on prescribed medication.

Staying active

With over thirty percent of adults in the U.S. currently taking medication for depression and the number of young people suffering from depression on the rise, it’s more important than ever for consumers to be aware of the risk factors and any possible solutions or treatment methods available to them.

While this study focuses on the way cultural engagement can benefit the older generation, a recent study found that engaging with nature can have similar benefits for older people. Researchers found that going out into blue or green spaces -- parks, lakes, gardens, ponds, etc. -- can leave visitors feeling refreshed and excited about the future.

“Accessibility to everyday green and blue spaces encourages seniors to simply get out the door,” said lead researcher Jessica Finlay. “This in turn motivates them to be active physically, spiritually, and socially, which can offset chronic illness, disability, and isolation.”

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