Like falling in love, experiencing art can boost your mental and physical well-being

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As we grow older and look for ways to fortify our physical and mental health, study after study has painted a picture for us: It pays to get creative.

This time, we’re not talking about exploring a new Zumba Gold class or diving into a series of brain games. We’re talking about exercising actual creativity – painting, drawing, sculpting and otherwise engaging in art.

“Artistic expression provides an outlet for accessing new ideas and developing problem-solving skills,” says Betsy Funk, a licensed clinical social worker, registered expressive arts therapist and co-founder of Omaha Therapy and Arts Collaborative. "It can also generate a greater understanding of one's personal life experiences and a positive mental outlook on one’s personal history, which can be extremely empowering."

Funk says art making can have a calming, almost meditative effect on the artist, which can potentially decrease stress, anxiety and depression, positively impacting a person's physical health over a period of time. Beyond that, research shows that creative expression can decrease blood pressure and regulate the central nervous system.

At Nebraska Medicine’s Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, an entire program has been created around the art-wellness connection. Healing Arts, with its therapeutic art and music programs and diverse art collection, is designed to reduce pain perception, anxiety, stress and depression in patients undergoing cancer treatment. The program also serves as a stress-relieving creative outlet for Nebraska Medicine staff and students.

But here’s the rub: What if you don’t consider yourself artistic?

Funk says reconsider: “I believe everyone has the capacity for creative expression in some form and that being creative is innate to human nature – from the time we can pick up a crayon, smear paint with our fingers or sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ Unfortunately, there are those who have been told they aren’t good enough at art or worse, that they aren’t capable of being creative at all.

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