Research examines older people’s engagement with creative and physical activities

Friday, 15 November 2019

Identifying barriers and enablers to lifetime engagement with creative and physical activities.

Helen English

Does being involved in creative and physical activities benefit you as you age? And how much creative and physical activity is optimal? These are the questions that Centre for 21st Century Humanities member, Dr Helen English is researching in her project on creative aging. The project is part of a large-scale interdisciplinary endeavour that is focussed on understanding the benefits of engagement with creative activities, such as in music, dance or art, for older members of society.

She recently presented the initial findings from her project at the Australian Association of Gerontology conference in Sydney.

“I had a good audience and the paper was well received, creating some subsequent conversations and also introducing our research to Prof. Julie Byles who was in the same session,” she said.

Dr English, who is working in a team with psychologists Prof. Frini Karayanidis and Dr Michelle Kelly, said there is a growing body of evidence that active engagement in creative and physical activities in later life can have a protective impact on brain health, as well as conferring a number of positive wellbeing outcomes including social connectivity, emotional well-being, personal growth and empowerment.

“Substantial research has already been undertaken into the benefits of engagement with creative arts and physical activities for people in different life situations, including research into the benefits of participation in music groups,” she said. “However, there is a lack of systematic research delineating the contributions of various demographic, lifestyle and health factors over the longer term. There is also a striking absence of studies comparing the benefits of different creative activities.”

Dr English and team are currently surveying over 400 older people in the Hunter, NSW, in order to discover what creative, as well as physical activities, older people have engaged with throughout their lives.

“We are identifying what activities they currently engage in and the barriers and enablers to lifetime engagement. We are also measuring a number of wellbeing factors including mood, social connections and quality of life.”

“Given the growing proportion of an older demographic (estimated at 22% of the Australian population by 2057), research into the specific benefits of different activities, including identifying optimum engagement time periods is timely,” Dr English said.

The research team intend to publish the results of the survey as a journal article.

“These results are a good foundation for the next stage of research which is planned as a study of the psychosocial and brain health benefits of participation in song-writing and music performance courses in aged care in the Hunter region.”

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