Movie magic: three ways the cinema could boost your wellbeing

Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK
16 November 2017

When you think about activities that are good for your wellbeing, what comes to mind? We might traditionally think about things like going to the gym, doing yoga or meditating. How about throwing the occasional cinema visit into that mix? 

OK, so unlike those other activities, going to the cinema hasn’t directly been linked to health improvements by lots of strong scientific evidence. There have, however, been some interesting studies about the potential benefits of cinema-going and watching films, some of which might surprise you. Above all, doing things you enjoy is well recognised as being very important for your mental wellbeing – and most of us can agree on a cinema trip being pretty enjoyable. 

Here are three ways the cinema could potentially give your day a boost, with tips from our Registered Nurse and Mindfulness Expert, Jane Bozier.

A photo of someone holding a roll of film

1. It can focus your thoughts

It might sound slightly odd at first, linking the cinema to wellbeing. But think about it: how often do you take the time to completely switch off and immerse yourself in focusing on one thing for a couple of hours? The way you’re forced to do that in a cinema environment could be said to have some parallels with mindfulness, which involves allowing your thoughts to arrive naturally in the present moment.

“Mindfulness is about being in the present moment using all of your senses,” explains Jane. “Watching a film can involve seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. We watch and hear the film, perhaps read subtitles; we touch the hand of the person we are with, the seat we are sitting in, the food we are eating. We see and hear what’s going on around us, and we smell and taste the food and drink. Then at the end, we get the opportunity to discuss the film afterwards with others.”

We may also come away from watching a fictional movie with a clearer idea of our plans for real life. One study in the journal BMJ has suggested that cinema, alongside other cultural activities, can inspire us to reflect on our current situation and think through how we should cope with problems.

2. It can be a way to take a break

Less than half of us say we're satisfied with the amount of leisure time we have. Without making the time to have breaks and relax, we can become more prone to stress and feeling worn down. This can impact many areas of our lives. To take one example of this, in 2016, an estimated 15 million days of work were taken off sick due to mental health problems, including stress, anxiety and depression.

Going to watch a film could be a good way to take a break. One analysis of survey data, by the Institute for Social and Economic Research, has suggested that people who visit the cinema once a month may be less prone to anxiety and depression.

Jane says: "It is important to set some time aside for ourselves to counter balance the busyness of our lives. It’s positive for your mental wellbeing to do something that you enjoy, something that brings you joy. It gives the brain time to rest and recharges its batteries.

"Watching a film also distracts the mind from rumination (dwelling on things) and negative thought patterns. However, be careful to ensure that the film is one that will make you happy and not sad."

3. It can keep you stimulated

Watching films can be mentally stimulating. In one example, a Bupa care home in Liverpool was recently involved in a trial where residents were shown films, which helped to spark their memories of the past and led them to interact with one another more.

If a film is thought-provoking and encourages us to debate the subject matter with friends and family, it could lead to what researchers have called ‘active mental engagement’. This kind of engaged mental activity may be good for our mental health in the long-term.

"Exercising our brains is as important to our wellbeing as exercising our body," says Jane. "Mental wellbeing can be defined as balancing mental stimulation and mental relaxation. Watching a film offers both opportunities for relaxation and stimulation. Keeping the brain active, trying something new, being creative and socialising, can all be a part of the cinema experience, and all of these are linked to positive mental wellbeing."

Sometimes the cinema can even by physically stimulating. A study in the journal Heart found that laughing through a funny film could help to dilate the 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.

Tips for a healthy cinema visit

  • Try to avoid the usual sugary snacks and soft drinks, as tempting as they can be. We have some great ideas about sugar swaps that could help you think of healthier alternatives to bring with you.
  • Walk to the cinema, if you live near enough, to add in some exercise. Why not try our walking meditation on the way?
  • Think about going with friends, and spending some time together afterwards talking about the film. Social interaction can be good for your mood.

Do you find going to the cinema helps your mood? Let us know through our social media channels. We’d love to know what you think.

Mindfulness is a great way to nurture your mental health. Our health insurance allows you to skip GP referral in some cases, and speak straight to a consultant.

Graham Pembrey
Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK

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