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Arts Activities Promote Health: An Interview with Dr. Nisha Sajnani

NYU Nisha Sajnani

Nisha Sajnani, Associate Professor and Director of the Program in Drama Therapy and co-director of the Jameel Arts & Health Lab at NYU Steinhardt established in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), was interviewed by the University Hospitals of Geneva magazine on the health benefits of the arts. She was also recently quoted on NPR  on the role of theatre in a public health strategy in Malawi. 

Three questions for Nisha Sajnani, director of Drama Therapy at New York University and co-founder of the Jameel Arts and Health Lab in collaboration with WHO.

Pulsations : Is art a form of medicine?
Nisha Sajnani : Arts and cultural activities are important for promoting the health and well-being of people, both individually and collectively. Theater and films, in particular, are effective in information and prevention strategies. As for dance, it is a good way to promote social interaction and physical activity which, in turn, improves physical, mental and social well-being. When it comes to treating and managing symptoms, music has been shown to effectively reduce stress. It is an integral part of various recognized care programs for Parkinson's patients, mothers suffering from postnatal depression or people recovering from a stroke.

What is the scientific evidence?
Over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in research into the effects of the arts on health and well-being. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the first report that synthesizes the results of more than 3000 studies that have identified a major role for art and art therapy in the prevention and promotion of health, management and treatment of disease throughout life.

How do the arts improve physical and mental health?
Arts activities are complex interventions in that they combine multiple components that are all known to promote health. These can involve pleasure, aesthetic engagement, imagination, sensory activation, evocation of emotion, and cognitive stimulation. Depending on its nature, an artistic activity may also involve social interaction, physical activity, engagement with health topics and interaction with healthcare settings. Each of these components can trigger psychological, physiological, social and behavioral responses that themselves have a positive impact on health. 

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