Friday, June 3, 2011

Why sculptors live longer than painters

Sculptors famous enough to warrant their own entry in reference books lived three years longer than their equally famous painter colleagues. Researchers at the University of Georgia reveal this discovery in a study published in Age and Ageing. The researchers analyzed data on the age reached by 94 famous European painters and 68 sculptors.

They obtained their data from the Larousse Dictionary of Painters and the Encylopedia of Sculpture. They confined themselves to sculptors who worked in stone, and therefore had to hew their statues out of hard material. When they calculated the age that painters and sculptors reached, they noticed that the sculptors lived longer than the painters. Sculptors reached an average age of 67.4 and painters 63.6.

Painters died more often than sculptors up to the age of 40 and between 60 and 70, as shown in the graph below. The open bars represent the sculptors; the coloured bars the painters.

Where the painters and sculptors lived made no difference: in all the countries examined the sculptors lived longer than the painters.

The researchers think that the sculptors were protected by the physical nature of their profession. Sculpting is hard work. According to modern studies, a sculptor weighing 65 kg burns 6.5 to 9.1 calories a minute. A painter weighing the same gets no further than 2.3 to 3.9 calories per minute. By the way, both professions expend more calories than someone who earns a living sitting at a computer.

It's possible that the physical work protected the sculptors against cardiovascular disease. That is what many classic studies from the twentieth century concluded about physical work, in the period before doctors started to prescribe statins.

At the time when the artists were alive, however, it wasn't cardiovascular disease but infectious diseases that were the most common cause of death. The researchers think that the physical work stimulated the immune system of the sculptors, so they were more resistant to pathogens.