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Visiting Museums May Be As Good For You As Exercise

Not feeling up to going to the gym?  Check out Balboa Park museums instead!


Sure, art museums have a lot of steps you can walk up and down. They have long hallways and walking tours that last for up to 1-2 hours. But could the simple act of visiting an art gallery and looking at art have a direct impact on our health, similar to exercise? According to recent research, it can!


For Nathalie Bondil, director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, “it’s always been very obvious, the impact of culture in our lives.” Last November 2018, the museum launched a pilot program that would allow patients prescribed museum visits. The program allows doctors to prescribe up to 50 museum visits to their patients in order to positively affect their health.


This program proved to be very successful. One psychiatric hospital prescribed museum visits for a group of women struggling with anorexia and found that along with painting sessions, it helped to socialize and connect the women in a meaningful way. Another instance showed a marginal improvement in heart attack survivors suffering with depression. These survivors showed a lowering in anxiety and depression after an art workshop and visit.


Using tools such as exercise, healthy eating and regular doctor visits will most definitely improve your health. But art has proven to access parts of the brain and human spirit that these tools cannot reach. Much like other holistic practices such as naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, visiting art galleries can be likened to a holistic treatment. With the implementation of this program, doctors are remembering that people are whole people and need holistic experiences to heal as well as treating the problem areas.


In the U.K. these museum visits are categorized as “complex non-clinical interventions.” London professor Helen Chatterjee explains that activities such as visiting art museums engage with the individual on a very deep level. One we may not even be able to sense. With regular visits, our physical, psychological and emotional well being can be improved and our problem solving skills sharpened. Chatterjee also points out that complex cognitive activities are even more beneficial when the subject is emotionally engaged in the activity. If you’re enjoying the piece of art, then your mind will more readily be able to make cognitive connections about it.


You may be thinking though….not everyone has the benefit of living close to an art museum. Making the arts accessible to all doctors and patients is something that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has looked into. What they found was that everyone had a different idea of what accessible means. Some heart attack survivors actually felt worse after visiting the gallery because they didn’t feel up to par. In addition, not all doctors are open to the program, labeling it as not as effective as traditional medicine. Since art museums aren’t a conventional prescription, backlash is expected especially from the medical community.


If you are suffering from anxiety or depression or any other kind of illness, consider a trip to the art museum and see if you notice the effects. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has taken the first step in creating a world where arts can actually have an impact on physical well being. This is an exciting step both in the traditional and alternative world of medicine.  We have so many wonderful museums here in San Diego- Balboa Park Museum of Fine Arts, Photographic Arts, Museum of Natural History, Modern Art in La Jolla or even Birch Aquarium.

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