WEDNESDAY, April 6, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- A shopping trip-a-day may help keep the doctor away, not to mention the Grim Reaper, a new study from Taiwan suggests.
Researchers there found that elderly people who go shopping daily live longer than their less shopping-prone peers.
And "retail therapy" seemed to benefit men more than women, according to the study, which was published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Why the connection?
"Frequent shopping among the elderly is related to increased walking -- a low-impact physical activity that can improve heart health as well as balance and coordination," said Kelly D. Horton, a research and policy specialist at the Center for Healthy Aging in Washington, D.C.
"Shopping provides an enjoyable activity and helps older adults feel included in their community," continued Horton. "In addition to physical activity, frequent shopping among older adults has also been related to improved nutrition intake."
This last point may simply be because more trips to the store means more healthy food in the house, said the authors, who are affiliated with the National Health Research Institutes in Zhunan, Taiwan. They also noted that the companionship of other people might also influence health.
The findings dovetail with the concept of "active aging," which indicates that higher levels of physical activity, economic activity and social and cultural engagement help with healthy aging.
For this study, Taiwanese researchers reviewed a nationally representative survey about elder nutrition and health conducted in 1999 and 2000. The questionnaires -- filled out by nearly 2,000 Taiwanese people over the age of 65 who were still living independently at home -- included questions about how often they shopped. The researchers also obtained information on the individuals' health, financial status and other factors, then compared the data with official death records from 1999 to 2008.
About half of the 1,850 participants said they never or hardly ever shopped, while 22 percent engaged in retail therapy two-to-four times a week and a minority -- 17 percent -- shopped every day.
Almost two-thirds of the respondents were under 75, and most reported having a healthy lifestyle. Nearly two-thirds, however, had at least two long-term health conditions.
People who shopped more frequently were more often younger (and probably therefore more able-bodied) and male. Oddly, though, they also smoked and drank more alcohol, despite also being in better overall health and getting out of the house to exercise or have dinner with friends more often.
The once-a-day shoppers were 27 percent less likely to die than the shop-a-phobics, even after adjusting for physical and mental impairment. Men who shopped once a day were 28 percent less likely to die and women 23 percent less likely than those who seldom ventured out to stores, according to the researchers.
And most of the participants were "financially self-sufficient," so a lack of shopping wasn't just a proxy of being poor.
The researchers, who declared no conflicts of interest, wrote that compared to formal exercise, shopping may be an easy way to get leisure-time physical activity. "Its informality makes it a moreattractive alternative than more prescriptive approaches tohealthy aging," they concluded.
But don't read too much into the findings, experts cautioned.
"This is a fun story, but I would not conclude that shopping itself increases longevity. The characteristics of individuals that enable them to shop are associated with greater longevity," said S. Jay Olshansky, professor of public health and a senior research scientist with the Center on Aging at the University of Illinois. "Shopping requires that you physically move from one place to another, be able to handle money, make decisions, etc. All of those characteristics...are linked to health."
But all the moving about and engagement linked to shopping probably does apply to older folks in other countries, he added.
"My own father, now age 95, like to spend two days a week walking around a local grocery store -- he must put in a mile each day. The walking does him wonders, and he spends a few bucks just for the fun of it," Olshansky said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more healthy aging.