For many of us, art is an important part of our lives. Whether it is a song that we enjoy singing or listening to, a poem that has special meaning to us, or a favorite painting that moves us in ways that are difficult to explain, art is a unique form of expression that can bring us joy and enhance our lives in many ways.

Art also has an important place in the field of medicine. Many doctors turn to art as a way to balance the rigors and logic of scientific methodology. Art offers them a way to express themselves or simply relax and enjoy their time. In medicine, however, the love of art is not confined to just medical professionals — art can be beneficial for patients, as well.

In fact, research has found that stroke survivors with an appreciation for music, painting, and theater recovered better than patients who did not. In a recent study, doctors assessed nearly 200 patients who had survived a stroke and were undergoing recovery. The subjects had an average age of 70 years and were divided according to whether or not art was important to them. From those two groups, quality of life was assessed for those interested in art (105) and those who were not (87).

What the researchers found was that when a patient had an appreciation for art, it seemed to improve their outcome after surviving a stroke. Art lovers had more energy and were better able to walk, and had overall better health. When considering emotional and psychological issues, they also were less prone to anxiety or depression, and felt calmer and happier. Patients who loved art also had better memories and were better at communication, which includes speaking, identifying people and objects more effectively, and understanding what was being said to them.

It was not exactly clear what the exact reason was for the difference in outcomes, but some experts posit that art may lead to long-term modifications in the brain that might aid in recovery after a stroke. Previous research has shown that listening to your favorite music can stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, which in turn can lead to the release of oxytocin and endorphins, both of which are responsible for pleasurable emotions. The authors of the study indicate that the current data supports the value of nurturing an appreciation to art, and may suggest a simple and cost effective way of improving the quality of life of patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

The findings are important because stroke is the leading cause of disability in adults in the western world, and the third leading cause of death. By some estimates, a person has a stroke every six seconds, highlighting the importance of finding ways to prevent and treat them. Fortunately, there are certain measures that people can take to potentially reduce their risk, including a healthy diet, exercise, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your physician. For more information about strokes, visit the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).