As we stroll through a favorite museum, listen to some great music or splurge on theater tickets, we could be benefiting our brains—in a way that is far more significant and surprising than the simple fun such activities provide. Why? Because when it comes to recovering from stroke, a recent study suggests, art lovers enjoy an important advantage. This is big news, given that stroke is the leading cause of disability and the number-three cause of death among adults in the Western world.

Researchers asked 192 stroke survivors whether they liked or did not like art, such as painting, music and theater. Of the participants, 105 said that they did like the arts…the other 87 had no particular interest in art (the clinical condition of both groups was similar). Findings: After adjusting for participants’ prestroke health status, researchers found that, regardless of the gravity of the strokes, patients who regarded art as an “integrated part of their former lifestyle” tended to…

  • Have more energy.
  • Experience less difficulty walking.
  • Feel calmer, happier, less depressed and less anxious.
  • Have better memory.
  • Show superior communication abilities (such as speaking, comprehension and correctly naming people and objects).
  • Have better general health.

Why art is smart: Researchers suggested that art may create long-term changes to the brain that help it recover after a trauma such as a stroke.

Not a lifelong lover of the arts? It is unclear whether nurturing a new appreciation for art later in life—or even after a stroke has already occurred—also has recovery benefits. But it might! So why not take yourself to a play, concert or gallery more often? Your brain may someday be the better for it.