Seniors: Get creative!

Add creativity to your life for healthy and happiness

By Barbara Pierce

Malin
Malin

Music, dance, poetry, painting and other arts pump new life into older minds and bodies. The arts help all of us live healthier, happier lives.

We all are creative — not just a select few. We all can benefit from art, whatever type we prefer.

“We very much believe that arts are a key part of a whole, happy, healthy life,” said Jane H. Malin, executive director, Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts, Little Falls. “We absolutely feel that the various types of art do quite a bit for health: emotionally, physically, and mentally. Arts definitely promote a healthier, happier life for people of all ages.”

Participating in art is essential for us all, offering a wide range of health benefits. It provides benefits for both the creator and viewer: decreasing stress, reducing depression and anxiety, increasing self-esteem, boosting social experiences, and even preventing disease.

The most popular classes at MVCA are mindfulness meditation and tai chi, both taught by Rosann Scalise.

Malin described how these classes began three years ago.

“We started a program with the Alpine Nursing Home. First, we did a baseline on the participants,” she said. “Then, Rosann and others led tai chi, art classes, music classes, and even harmonica lessons. After six months, we retested. Participants showed an average of 50 percent improvement with less depression, fewer behavior problems, decreased stress, and increased range of motion.”

This is significant proof of how art enhances well-being and quality of life. Many other studies confirm Malin’s findings that being involved in art affects people in many positive ways.

Making art improves cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. In this way, it enhances cognitive reserve, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies.

Take for example Sally Connors, an 82-year-old former schoolteacher who lives in a retirement facility. New York Times online reports how she and a friend surprised themselves by writing their life stories in rap and performing their rap memoirs for at-risk teenagers they were mentoring. Both said their newfound involvement with the arts has made them feel decades younger.

Array of choices

“We do all four main types of art at MVCA — music, visual arts, literary arts and movement, ” Malin said. “We have music lessons, voice or instrument, and we hold concerts that feature local musicians. We keep the price as low as possible. People are able to hear music, relax, relieve stress, and have mental stimulation. We have several painting classes. For movement, we have tai chi. Also, in collaboration with the library, we help people express themselves in writing.”

Art classes are available at the Parkway Center in Utica. Communications director Sara Spezzano invites people to check out its watercolor class or open art class. The open art class is for everyone. “There’s no instructor; we provide the space, people work together on art projects, and then we have a coffee and cookie break,” she said.

Some suggestions to get more art in your life:

— Discover what’s available in your community that appeals to you. Explore what’s going on at MVCA, the Parkway Center, and other organizations. Go to gallery openings, local arts and crafts fairs, concerts, writing classes, and your library. Seeing what artists are doing can be great sources of inspiration.

— Read books to inspire creativity. “When I’m looking for ideas, I go to my local library and check out the non-fiction section, the section numbered 700-800. All the stuff about art is there,” says Robie Benve online. “One of my favorites is ‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri.”

My favorites for inspiration are Julia Cameron’s books, especially “The Artist’s Way.”

Find books that may teach you new techniques, or inspire you to create something new. You can get lots of ideas.

— If you’ve been involved in art already, you might still have your art supplies somewhere. Make them easily accessible for when you’re feeling inspired.

— Take lots of photos of things and places you like, suggests Benve. Store them in an organized way. When going through magazines, clip out and save pictures that you like and somehow inspire you. Looking at your photos and pictures may spark you.

— Create for the sake of creating; the fun is in the journey, not the destination. Don’t worry about anyone else seeing the final product. Do it because you enjoy it. Enjoy every step of it, even the mistakes, because they teach you a lot.

For more information on the Parkway Center, call 315-223-3973, or visit www.theparkwaycenter.org.

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