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About artists and ageing

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8 January 2014

Artists in the 18th and 19th century had a similar life expectancy when compared to the elite, even though they belonged to the social middle class of that time in the Low Countries.

Creative activities are known to enhance health via different mechanisms, such as reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and chronic inflammation. These mechanisms are all known to be involved in the ageing process. Hence, Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing and the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute studied the historical life expectancy of various groups of artists in the Low Countries to test whether they enjoyed an increased life expectancy. They compared the life expectancy of more than 12,000 composers, writers, poets, sculptors and painters born between 1700 and 1900, to the elite of that time in the Low Countries (the Netherlands and Belgium of today). The results will be published in PLoS ONE on January 8th.

Artists born before 1850 had a similar life expectancy at age 50 when compared to the elite of that time. Only painters had a lower life expectancy than the elite, which is most likely due to their exposure to toxic materials.

From 1850 onwards, composers and writers had a lower life expectancy when compared to the elite. However, painters now enjoyed a similar life expectancy as the elite. The reversed observations for artists born after 1850 could result from changes in the living environment during that time.

Fereshta Mirzada, Anouk S. Schimberg, Frouke M. Engelaer, Govert E. Bijwaard, David van Bodegom, Rudi G.J. Westendorp en Frans W.A. van Poppel

Arts and ageing; life expectancy of historical artists in the Low Countries. PLoS ONE 9(1): e82721, January 2014:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0082721

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