Healthy vibes: Connecting the arts and your health

Before I went to medical school, I was a music student and earned a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar performance. My roommate was a jazz guitarist and, while at the school, I met my wife, who was a vocal major. I was surrounded by music.

To this day, my wife and I both have an appreciation for the arts and music. We still play music and sing together. We also enjoy going to concerts, and we are Oregon Symphony season ticket holders.

As a musician who is also a doctor, I value how the arts can affect our health and well-being in a positive way.

A good example of the arts and healthcare converging was a project in Portland, where mural artists Rather Severe and Blaine Fontana partnered with Kaiser Permanente to create two new murals.

The public art was created with the intention of bringing hope and encouragement to people suffering from depression.

The goal: Use bright designs to help lift the spirits of others and also encourage those who are feeling anxious or depressed to reach out for support.

When we take a total approach to our health, it allows us to recognize that the arts can be beneficial for both our physical and emotional well-being — whether that’s the part of our brain we exercise when learning to play a new instrument or the good mood that overcomes us when a song makes us feel nostalgic.

How we engage with the arts can be different depending on interests. Maybe you enjoy spending an afternoon exploring a new contemporary art exhibit, look forward to a night at the theater, can’t help but tap your toes at a concert, or enjoy setting up an easel and putting on smocks to waterpaint with your kids or grandkids.

The common theme in all these activities is to rely on art to help us access our emotions and they can help evoke feelings.

I am, of course, supportive of my patients embracing the arts.

For example, learning a new instrument can help with dexterity and be an avenue for people to engage more socially, which is key for our emotional well-being.

We also see the arts woven into therapy programs to help individuals tap into emotions or boost brain activity and shift the moods of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

The arts can be an all-natural mood booster, a way to express yourself and a healthy way to reduce stress.

So, the next time you’re on the fence about going to that free outdoor concert or whether you should check out a new gallery opening, remind yourself it’s good for your health.

(Mark Margoles, MD, is a family medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente, practicing at the Keizer Station Medical Office.)

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