Series: Art is good for health

Paintings can do more than decorate a home. They can also save your brain.

Studies show that exposure to a diverse range of arts and other educational stimuli over long periods of time can decrease memory loss by up to 50%, said Dr. William Shankle, program director of Memory & Cognitive Disorders at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute.

“The use of artistic or creative activity activates many brain areas,” he said. “By activating those brain areas, it induces changes in brain activity that protect the brain from disease and aging.”

Shankle kicks off the first in a three-part series on the topic from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

Tickets for the series in the museum’s Norma Kershaw Auditorium are $18 for museum members and $28 for nonmembers. Tickets can also be bought for individual lectures for $7 and $10, for members and nonmembers, respectively.

“We are pleased to work in conjunction with Hoag Neurosciences Institute to reinforce the premise that the ‘arts are good for your health,’” Peter Keller, Bowers Museum president, said in a prepared statement. “This new initiative supports the museum’s mission of ‘enriching lives through the world’s finest arts and cultures.’”

Saturday’s lecture will be co-hosted by Junko Hara, director of research at the Shankle Clinic and scientific advisor for the Orange County Vital Aging Program. A discussion will focus on the relationship between the brain and creative activity, and how neurological disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and depression have affected the work of famous artists.

The series will continue Feb. 12 with a lecture and hands-on demonstration surrounding the benefits of painting on creativity, motor skills, emotion, memory and more. The conclusion will be March 25 with a look on how music keeps brain functions sharp.

“Different types of creative activities activate different brain areas,” Shankle said of incorporating more than one artistic medium into the lecture series. “The areas activated are the ones that get protected.”

If you can’t attend the lecture series, there are things you can do from home to protect your brain, Shankle said.

He emphasized the importance of a Mediterranean diet — one that is heavy on fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish and other lean meats — incorporating at least 45 minutes of exercise three to four times a week into your regimen and picking up new hobbies or expanding on existing ones.

It doesn’t matter what you learn, just as long as you’re still challenging your brain, Shankle said.

And variety is always a good thing.

“Being a bit of a renaissance individual really has its value,” Shankle said.

Twitter: @speters01