Four reasons painting is good for your mental and physical health

Research studies about art and health reach the overarching conclusion that creative arts contribute to the healing process.

You may think taking time to paint is a luxury, when in fact there are four ways you boost your health when you start to paint.

Arts Effect

Research studies about art and health reach the overarching conclusion that creative arts contribute to the healing process. 

Art provides a refuge from intense emotions, and helps processing experiences that are difficult to talk about. 

Painting may boost self esteem, support substance abuse treatment, promote healthy aging, and offer stress relief.

Famous People Who Paint

What do all these people have in common?

  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Lucy Liu
  • Dennis Hopper
  • Johnny Depp
  • Johnny Cash
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Winston Churchill
  • George W. Bush
  • Dwight Eisenhower

You guessed it! They all enjoy, or enjoyed drawing and painting.

Boost Self Esteem

In a world where many face high expectations and pressure to perform, painting and creating art gives the satisfaction of working at your own pace and finishing a project when you decide you're finished. 

Finding pleasure in a swirl of colors or lines of design returns the focus to your inner self, and cushions you from the demands and criticisms of others. The artist decides what's art!

When you feel pleased and happy from expressing yourself through art, negative emotions recede. More pleasure, less negativity, and the satisfaction of creating combine to help boost your self-esteem.

Substance Abuse Treatment

If 37% of substance abuse treatment programs include art therapy, as reported in one study, then artistic expression must help recovery. 

There are three benefits expected from art therapy for a person in recovery:

  1. Painting, drawing, and other creative arts provide non-addictive ways to soothe yourself, and presumably give an alternative to reaching for an addictive substance to self-soothe.
  2. Painting promotes healthy self-reflection. It brings you into the present, and requires that you fully experience what you see, touch, and feel. This may open your heart and mind to healthy self-reflection and direct your mind toward new ideas and insights and away from old pains and traumas.
  3. Art therapy improves affect regulation. This is a psych term that describes your ability to control how you respond to difficult and stressful situations.

Healthy Aging

Healthy older people who practice art often show improved memory and reasoning skills, perhaps because the mind-body coordination required to paint improves nerve networks connecting different parts of the brain. 

Artistic seniors may also be more resilient to the ups and downs of life. No doubt this is due to the pleasure painting adds to life, plus the value of expressing difficult emotions through art.

Stress Relief

Painting is a form of meditation. A painter immerses themself in what they see, hear, smell, and touch. Intense focus on tactile experiences of the present relieves anxiety and generates feelings of calm wellbeing.

It is also possible that looking on created art helps reduce stress, especially work involving scenes of nature. Taking walks in a forest or along a serene body of water helps reduce blood levels of cortisol, a potent stress hormone associated with greater risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and accumulation of body fat. Additional research finds that even looking at pictures of forests contributes some of the same benefits!

In my book De-Stress Your Life, Turn Chaos Into Calm  I tell about a time when looking at art reduced my stress. I share an excerpt here:

One day at my local Starbucks the service was lethargic. I waited, tapping my foot and checking social media updates every ten seconds. WHERE IS MY CAPPUCCINO? HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A CUP OF COFFEE, ANYWAY?

I imagined a graph of my blood pressure. It arced up into dangerous territory, the red zone marked WARNING!!! In a desperate attempt to calm myself, I looked around. There!

Above the counter where you pick up your order, I saw a captivating photograph. It was big: 3 by 4 feet at least.

"Big East Fork" by David Braud
Photograph Big East Fork c2019 by David Braud. Used With Permission.

I gazed at a riverbank in the country. A rushing stream swept around a bend. Trees extended bare arms toward the other side. I imagined feeling icy cold water when I stepped in. Forces swirled around my ankles, pushing and shoving, but I stood firm, soothed by the current’s sweet refrain. The air was fresh and damp. Robins sang.

“Deborah. Tall cappuccino,” said the barista. WHAT? ALREADY?


If you like to paint, want to paint, or always wished you could paint, give it a try! You might end up improving your health while you create a work of beauty, learn new skills, and gain something interesting to talk about.

If this article inspired you to start painting, you may want to read "16 simple things to know to begin with watercolors and create successful paintings" by clicking here.

What Does Health Mean to You?

In my work with clients we first dig deep into the motivations behind a goal. Health, for example, is so much more than a number on a scale, or the results of a laboratory test a doctor orders. You’ll get better success building health if you first examine your reasons why.

Use my free checklist “My Why for Health,” to discover the motivations that mean the most to you!

About the Author

Guest contributor Deborah Rankin RD is the author of the five-star Amazon book De-Stress Your Life: Turn Chaos Into Calm.   She loves to bicycle, kayak, and garden. As a health coach she helps people ditch the diet and find easy, sustainable steps to wholeness and health. 

© 2021 Healthy Habits Communications LLC

Categories: Art and Health