How can watching theater benefit the mind?

Are you looking for a new hobby or activity? Has your weekly television routine grown stale? Do you love music, dancing and drama?

If you answered yes to any of these, it may be time for you to attend a live theater performance - and here's why.

What theater provides
"Theatre is one of the higher cultural activities that mark us as imaginative, creative and truly human," Dr. Glenn D Wilson explained during a lecture at Gresham College.

Attending a performance of your favorite play can promote a connection with and understanding of humanity in a bigger sense. Wilson explained that the inclusion of human conflict in many plays helps people relate to each other while providing subtle guidance in our own personal relationships. 

"Attending a performance can promote a connection with and understanding of humanity in a bigger sense."

Watching a play also allows the audience to access emotions they often don't. Whether you see a tragedy or a musical, there's likely an element of the storyline that extends beyond your personal life experiences. This notion was further proven when the University of Arkansas Department of Education conducted a study on the effects of live performances for students. Emotional benefits that surfaced included an increased ability to comprehend and empathize with other people's feelings and reactions. Those results weren't as apparent with the control group that read the play or watched a movie adaptation.

The human element
One of the key attributes that separates theater from movies and books is liveliness. Have you seen plays that were adapted for film? According to the Guardian, movies often show the same performance, but watching it isn't the same experience.

There's a bond that forms between the performers and the viewer, not to mention the connection that forms among the members of the audience together. The Guardian explained how there are brief magical moments that can only happen when spectators and performers share a physical space.

Comedy or drama?
While all types of theater performances have benefits, plays and musicals that make you laugh may be the best choice for your mental and emotional health.

The Mayo Clinic explained that laughter is great for relieving stress and stimulating organs. In the short term, giggling causes a boost in endorphins, the brain's feel-good chemicals. Additionally, it spikes your blood pressure, then releases it, which can leave you feeling relaxed. When you're having a chuckle, extra oxygen is being delivered to your muscles, lungs and heart as well.

Over time, laughing can actually strengthen your immune system. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is the result of your brain releasing various chemicals based on the disposition of your thoughts. Positive thinking causes brain chemicals that fight stress, as opposed to the detrimental chemicals that result from negative thinking.

Enjoy a live performance for a multitude of benefits.

Stay local
When you're considering what type of performance to attend, find out if there are any community theater groups near your independent living community. There are several reasons these local, amateur shows are a great choice.

By attending, you're supporting the community, especially the residents who are performing. These groups allow people of all ages to try singing, dancing and acting on stage. The American Association of Community Theatre explained how these troupes allow many people to perform in roles that they dreamed of without committing to an acting career.

There are benefits for you as well, such as the fact that community theater shows are often much less expensive than other performances. Additionally, the plays and musicals are typically held in smaller venues, so the action is easy to see and hear. Finally, you can audition for the next production! According to the National Institute of Health's National Institute on Aging, acting is one of the best types of art for people to pick up at any stage in life because you don't necessarily need background knowledge or training.