Participating in Cultural Activities Improves Your Health

This study was based on data from the third Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT study), conducted from 2006 to 2008, in which all citizens in the county, aged 13 and older, were invited for a health examination. The study examined the relationship between cultural activities and the levels of anxiety and depression, along with perceived health and satisfaction with life. The results of this study support the hypotheses that participation in cultural activities promotes good health, and that they should be made a part of governmental health policies and medical therapies.

The concept of culture includes art, literature, lifestyle, physical activities, ethics, human rights, and spiritual convictions. Cultural participation has always been assumed to play an important role in improving health. Previous studies have shown that social and cultural activities increase the survival rate of an individual. Cultural activities can be classified as receptive, in the case of activities like visiting museums, theatres or concerts. It may be categorized creative, in the case of activities like singing, painting, and other social pursuits. This study analyzed the effect of participation in both receptive and creative cultural activities on perceived health, anxiety, depression, and satisfaction with life. It analyzed this in both genders with a focus on effect of possible gender differences on the outcome.


  • For this study, receptive and creative cultural participation data was collected using questionnaires. For estimation of the participation in receptive cultural activities, 19,736 females and 15,937 males were interviewed. Similarly, 18,906 females and 15,494 males were interviewed to assess the participation in creative cultural activities. All these participants had already undergone a health examination during the third survey of the HUNT study (2006-2008). The frequency of participation in different cultural activities was calculated for the different receptive and creative cultural activities.
  • Data on perceived health, satisfaction with life, and other health variables was also collected with the help of questionnaires. Anxiety and depression were measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale (HADS).
  • Multiple univariate binary logistic regression analysis was used to study the relationships between each cultural activity and the corresponding dependent variables like anxiety, depression, and health. Gender-specific models were used to evaluate interactions between gender and the receptive and creative cultural activities.

Data/Results/Key findings

  • Complete data on both creative and receptive activities was available for 17,932 females and 14,928 males. 77% males and 73% females reported very good perceived health scores. 91% males and 87% females reported very low anxiety scores. 90% both males and females reported low depression scores, while 88% of males and 87% of females reported good satisfaction with life scores.
  • For the assessment of good perceived health, the odds ratio (OR) was calculated as 1.03 for receptive cultural activity and 1.05 for creative cultural activity in females, while it was 1.09 and 1.07 respectively in males.
  • For good satisfaction with life, the OR for receptive and creative cultural activities indices in females were found to be 1.08 and 1.06 respectively, while in males it was 1.14 for receptive cultural index and 1.04 for creative cultural index.
  • Low anxiety score was associated with an OR of 1.09 for receptive cultural activity index and 1.06 for creative cultural activity index in females, while in males it was 1.13 for receptive cultural activity index and 1.06 for creative cultural activity index.
  • Low depression score was associated with an OR of 1.10 for receptive cultural index and 1.05 for creative cultural activity index in females, while in males it was 1.12 and 1.07 for receptive cultural activity index and for creative cultural activity index.

Next steps/shortcomings
As this was a cross-sectional study, cause-effect relationships could not be determined. The clinical relevance of the results is also questionable. In spite of having small Odds Ratios, small changes at the population level could lead to major effects on disease risk factors. There is also a chance of selection bias and future longitudinal and experimental studies are required to establish the relevance of the study.

According to this study, participation in receptive and creative cultural activities is associated with good health, satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression levels. The results were consistently similar in both males and females, with minor variations in the types of activities. Participation in receptive, rather than creative cultural activities, was more strongly associated with all health-related positive outcomes in males, while participating in creative rather than cultural activities was more associated with good health in females. These results show a gender-dependent difference in the influence of the receptive and creative cultural activities. According to the authors, the significance of this study is that it focuses on all possible determinants of well-being in terms of the frequency of participation in each individual cultural activity.

For More Information:
Patterns of Receptive and Creative Cultural Activities and their Association with Perceived Health, Anxiety, Depression and Satisfaction with Life among Adults: the HUNT Study, Norway
Publication Journal: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, May 2011
By Koenraad Cuypers; Steinar Krokstad
From the Nord-Trondelag Health Study Research Center, Levanger, Norway, and Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway and Levanger Hospital, Levanger, Norway

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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