NEW YORK, June 22 ― Going to the museum can be a therapeutic exercise. The concept may be somewhat surprising, but it's one that is gaining ground. Such cultural therapy can have a host of health benefits including relieving chronic pain and easing mental suffering, according to a recent American study.

Millions of people visit museums each year. While many go to museums to learn, these visits can also improve their physical condition and mental well-being. That's what researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found in their study published in the Journal Of Positive Psychology.

Katherine Cotter and James Pawelski have compiled and reviewed over 100 scientific publications and reports on the multiple benefits of culture on our health. They found that contact with artworks significantly reduced anxiety and stress. Recent studies have shown that visiting an art museum has a measureable impact on the secretion of hormones responsible for our well-being such as cortisol and serotonin.

Prescribed museum visits

And those aren't the only therapeutic virtues of art. “Museum therapy” or “museotherapy” has also been shown to help prevent and treat behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. A team of Australian and South African researchers found that cultural or art therapy can help fight depression in people with dementia, while improving their cognitive functions.

With this in mind, the Médecins francophones du Canada association allowed its members to send patients suffering from depression, diabetes or chronic illnesses to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for free. This one-year pilot project, launched in November 2018, has since spawned similar initiatives in Switzerland and France.

One thing that is certain is that going to a museum has a positive impact on our mood and mental well-being. But the benefits of these cultural visits go beyond that. Katherine Cotter and James Pawelski also observed that museums play a role in social cohesion. People who visit regularly tend to feel less lonely. They are also more likely to ask questions about societal issues, “suggesting that the experience of visiting [a museum] encourages different forms of reflection and thought processes,” the researchers conclude in their study. ― ETX Studio