Three ways the cinema could boost your wellbeing

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
24 December 2019
Next review due December 2022

From the smell of freshly buttered popcorn, to curling up in an oversized armchair – there’s nothing quite like getting lost in a good movie at your local cinema. Some research has even suggested that a trip to the cinema could potentially benefit your wellbeing. More evidence is needed before we can know for sure if there’s a direct link between the cinema and health, but what we do know is that spending time doing the things you enjoy is an important part of looking after your mental health. And most us of can agree that a trip to the cinema is pretty enjoyable.

So, sit back and relax as I explore three ways the cinema could boost your wellbeing, and I’ll share my top tips to make your day at the movies a healthy one. We’ll also hear first-hand from some regular movie-goers on how a trip to the box office makes them feel.

1. Take time out

In today’s busy world, taking time out for yourself often gets pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. You might be balancing work, family, friends, a home and finances, whilst also trying to cook healthily and find the time to exercise. But not taking breaks could leave you feeling tired and stressed. It’s important to take time out to relax, unwind and recharge your batteries.

A trip to your local cinema could be just the ticket to help you take a break. Some research has suggested that people who take part in cultural activities, such as going to the cinema, may be less prone to anxiety and depression.

As well as giving you some headspace, watching a movie could also give you the opportunity to explore your emotions, and provide insight and understanding into the lives of others. As such, it could help you to see things from a new perspective. This is sometimes referred to as cinematherapy.

Marcella, Specialist Health Editor and fan of movies about triumph in the face of adversity, says:

“As a parent I’m regularly juggling the demands of family and work life, which at times can make switching off difficult. But the cinema always provides me with the perfect way to escape and lose myself in another world.”

2. Focus on the present

How often do you get the time to completely switch off from your surroundings and focus on one thing without any distractions? The way you immerse yourself in a film could be said to have some parallels with practising mindfulness. Mindfulness requires you to slow down, pay attention and allow your thoughts to arrive naturally in the present moment. It can help you to manage your thoughts and feelings and have a positive effect on your overall wellbeing.

Watching a film can also help to distract your mind from rumination (dwelling on things) and negative thought patterns. But be sure to choose a happy film, rather than one that might make you feel sad or fearful.

Rhona, Personal Assistant and fan of character-driven movies, says:

“Going to the cinema gives me the chance to switch off from thinking about anything apart from the film I’m watching and immerse myself in the here and now. I often find myself distracted by the stream of emails and notifications on my phone, so it’s also a welcome break from checking my messages.”

3. Stimulate your body and mind

When you watch a movie, the pictures, sounds, music and colours all come together to bring the story to life and stimulate your senses. A newly emerging field of research, known as neurocinema, has shown a relationship between the brain and cinema. Some studies have found that different areas of your brain – such as those related to vision, hearing, language, feelings, and emotions – are activated while you watch a film.

Sometimes the cinema can even be physically stimulating. A study in the journal Heart found that laughing through a funny film could help to dilate your blood vessels and improve blood flow. When you laugh it also releases endorphins, a type of chemical produced by the brain that helps you to feel more relaxed and well.

Sandra, Retired Nurse and lover of romantic comedies, says:

“I’ve been going to the cinema since I was five years old and introduced both my children and grandchildren to the magic of film. It’s a great source of entertainment, education and fun. Cinemas today are so comfortable, with loads of movies to choose from and superb special effects. I love to watch something thought-provoking that provides hours of endless discussion with friends and family long after we’ve left the movie theatre.”

Tips for a healthy cinema visit

  • The snacks available at the cinema such as fizzy drinks, cheesy nachos and pick ‘n’ mix may be tempting, but they can also be high in fat, sugar and calories. So try to plan ahead and bring healthy snacks like fresh fruit, nuts or low-sugar cereal bars with you. Or go for plain popcorn without salt or butter, or sugar-free or ‘diet’ versions of fizzy drinks instead.
  • If you live near enough, why not walk to the cinema to add some exercise into your day?
  • Think about going with friends and spending some time together afterwards talking about the film. Social interaction can be good for your mood.

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Fatmata Kamara
Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Five ways to wellbeing. Mind., accessed 16 December 2019
    • Robertson B. All things connect: The integration of mindfulness, cinema and psychotherapy. Counseling Today. March 2016
    • Fancourt D and Tymoszuk U. Cultural engagement and incident depression in older adults: evidence from the English Longitudinal study of Ageing. BJPsych 2019; (214): 225-229 doi: 10.1192/bjp.2018.267
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    • Moghadasi AN. Neurocinema: A brief overview. Iran J Neurol 2015; 14(3): 180-84
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    • Healthy snacks. The Association of UK Dietitians., reviewed September 2018

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