Have you tried your hand at the trend of adult coloring? With pages full of intricate designs and patterns that require fine pencil work, adult coloring books can provide hours of quiet entertainment—along with a host of benefits for your brain.
“Coloring can be very therapeutic,” says Margaret Carlock-Russo, art therapist at Sonora, the on-site health center for Splendido, an all-inclusive community in Tucson for those 55 and better. “And it’s nice to do as a group. A shared experience makes it more meaningful; it’s not just social.”
Here are three powerful reasons to consider trying this new trend:
1. Coloring serves as a gateway to more creative pursuits. Those who are not experienced artists can start with coloring and may find it leads to more creativity. The next step may simply be a stronger focus on color and patterns—leading you to be more confident in interior design or your wardrobe—but research shows that coloring can also help you become more creative at your work and your analytical thinking.
“Engaging in coloring can lead to becoming more familiar with combining colors,” says Margaret. “As you become more confident, you may become interested in moving to free drawing.”
2. Coloring reduces anxiety and stress. The act of coloring can be meditative and has the potential to reduce anxiety and stress. As with meditation and tai chi, coloring allows people to forget everyday thoughts as they focus closely on their task. One expert points out that this can be especially true for those who aren’t comfortable with more creative forms of art, such as free-form painting. Coloring offers the safety of a pre-established pattern.
Scientists researching this phenomenon have noted positive changes in heart rates and brainwaves of adults as they color. One 2005 study showed that anxiety levels dropped when subjects colored mandalas, which are round frames with geometric patterns inside. (Doodling, on the other hand, had no effect on reducing stress.) Coloring mandalas is particularly effective at reducing stress, due to the concentric patterns and circles of these ancient designs.
3. Coloring sharpens the memory. Splendido includes a mandala-coloring workshop among its many art offerings for residents. Margaret says that she understands the workshop, which is facilitated by Splendido’s Repriorment Services manager, “has been very meaningful to a lot of people. They feel empowered and creative—it can be rejuvenating.”
During the class, participants color in black and white printouts using colored pencils. “It’s fine work—the pencils have to be sharp,” explains Splendido resident Jacque Becktold.
“I became interested in the workshop when they said this could help with memory,” Jacque says. “I thought, ‘if Splendido is doing this, it must work.” Jacque explains that she and her husband watch Jeopardy! every day, and they both do “pretty good” at getting the answers. “Well, I went to two mandala workshops, and I got all the answers on Jeopardy! the next time we watched!,” she reports.
Jacque believes the mandalas helped sharpen her memory because she’s been using her brain in a different way. “It’s planning the colors—you use so many. I sit there and plan out how the design will look before I get started,” she explains.
Experts support her theory. Psychologists believe the act of coloring can involve both creativity and logic: Selecting colors for specific shapes taps into the analytical part of the brain, while creating the overall color mix uses the brain’s creative side. This exercises the brain in a unique way, by activating areas of the cerebral cortex that control vision and guide fine motor skills.
Try coloring mandalas and see if you notice improved mood and memory. In addition to any brain benefits you notice, you’ll have some colorful keepsakes.