Five reasons to enjoy live entertainment

Next time you’re debating whether the time and money of going to the theatre are worth it, you might want to consider whether there is more to it than just an enjoyable night out. Can theatre actually make us happier and healthier? Research suggests it can.

Five reasons that might cause you to want to go to the theatre more often:

1. To live longer and healthier

Looking to live longer and healthier? Then get to the theatre, a museum or a concert. Many studies have found that engaging with the arts can improve a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, including having positive effects on depression, dementia and chronic pain.

Research published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) last year, found engaging with the arts every few months lowered the risk of dying early by as much as 31 per cent. Even only engaging in such cultural activities once or twice a year seems to offer 14 per cent reduced risk of dying during an average follow-up of 12 years, compared to those who never engaged with the arts.

The study reported that even when taking into account variants in participants such as marital status, employment, wealth, education and friendship groups the statistics remained the same. They also adjusted the study to take into account cognition, mental health and physical activity amongst those who do or do not engage in cultural activities with the same result.

2. To reduce stress

Although it relates to number 1, stress relief deserves a point of its own in this too often stressful world.

While all types of theatre performances have a host of benefits, plays and musicals that make you laugh see to be ideal for mental and emotional health. According to the Mayo Clinic laughter is great for relieving stress and stimulating organs. In the short term, it causes a boost in endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals. It also spikes your blood pressure, then releases it, which can leave you feeling relaxed. Meanwhile, extra oxygen is delivered to your muscles, lungs and heart.

Laughing over a longer-term can also strengthen your immune system. This is the result of your brain releasing various chemicals based on the disposition of your thoughts. Positive thinking causes brain chemicals that fight stress.

It has to be noted that there can be a breakoff point where acting works detrimentally to the health and well-being of the actor themself. Research on heart rates before a live performance revealed that most theatre actors experience an increase in their heart rate due to anxiety.

In a similar way film actors can experience high levels of stress. Cameron Diaz voiced it well when she said that she found “peace” after ending her Hollywood career two years ago. “It’s so intense to work at that level and be that public and put yourself out there.” She told Gwyneth Paltrow, on the fellow actress’s health podcast. “I stopped and really looked at my life,” she continued. “When you’re making a movie, they own you. You’re there for 12 hours a day for months on end, you have no time for anything else.”

Perhaps a good reason to nip that dream of becoming the next billion dollars earning actor in the bud?

3. To experience something that helps give another perspective from your own.

Attending a performance can promote a greater understanding of humanity. There’s a likelihood that an element of the storyline extends beyond your personal life experiences. It can offer consideration of your own attitudes and behaviours.

The University of Arkansas Department of Education conducted a study on the effects of live performances for students. Apparently, emotional benefits included an increased ability to comprehend and empathize with other people’s feelings and reactions.

Live theatre helps to promote conversation on social issues and has the potential social change. Some plays offer the opportunity to examine society and reflect on it, perhaps to listen to viewpoints differing to your own. We can study societal problems and attempt to find solutions.

4. To experience a mental stimulus

Studies have shown that people engaged in theatre promotes education and literacy. Even when the researches were conducted with juvenile delinquents or the clinically depressed, the same results appeared.

Many health services and insurances finance involvement in the arts as a means of recovery or of dealing with a long-term health problem. The British National Health Service (NHS), for example, prescribes social and community service referrals to the arts as they have found that they significantly improve wellbeing and health.

In the US numerous studies have demonstrated a correlation between students involved in drama classes and academic achievement. In addition to having higher scores in tests and exams than their peers who do not experience the arts, student who participate in drama often experience improved reading comprehension and maintain better attendance records. Schools with arts-integrated programs, even in low-income areas, report high academic achievement.

Aside from the academic benefits, drama can help students express themselves in ways that they weren’t able to before. Some children and teens have a hard time expressing themselves verbally. Taking a role in the theatre can help them learn to express themselves and can build their self-esteem immensely.

5. To enjoy the live experience

One of the key attributes that separate theatre from films and books is the fact that it is live. Have you seen plays that were adapted for film? According to the Guardian, films often show the same performance, but watching it isn’t the same experience. In the same way as reading the book of the play doesn’t have the same benefits

Although the script may be the same every night, the performance is unique, every time it happens. No two performances are ever the same. In this way, everyone involved has a distinct and unique experience that can never be replicated. There’s a bond that forms between the performers and the viewer, not to mention the connection that forms among

the members of the audience together. There are brief magical moments that can only happen when spectators and performers share a physical space.

So is theatre good for our health? Absolutely. Perhaps it’s time to join your local amateur dramatics group, or at least go to watch their performances? A night out at the theatres supports your own health and well-being as well as that of your community. D you need any more reason to get out your credit card and agenda?

Sarah Johnson

Sarah is a British born Communication and Media Graduate from the University of Leeds. Sarah has written for a number of publications and has an avid interest in theatre and the arts in general.

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