To Live Longer, Granny, Get Your Fanny to the Mall

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Ariel Skelley/Blend Images via Getty Images

Feel like living longer? Grab a shopping cart.

A new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health says that daily shopping trips were associated with increased survival for the elderly. Using data from a survey of nearly 2,000 elderly (65 or over) men and women from Taiwan conducted in 1999 and 2000, and linking the results to the country’s National Death Registration from 1999 to 2008, the authors found that elderly people who shopped every day had a 27% lower risk of death than the least frequent shoppers.

This finding adjusted for a host of variables, including the age of the person at the time of the survey, health habits like drinking and smoking, and financial status. Men who shopped daily, further, were 28% less likely to die, compared with a 23% reduced risk for women.

But the researchers note that the key to long life may not be shopping or spending money per se. “Making purchases may not be the main purpose in shopping for elders,” write the authors, a group of public health researchers from Taiwan and Australia. They point to the survey data, which reveals that those who described their financial status as “very difficult” were more likely to shop every day than respondents who were better off. The authors see this as a sign that most people aren’t splurging while in the aisles. (You could also argue that these respondents were in tough financial shape because they shopped and spent too much.)

The researchers suggest that it’s possible that people who are healthier to start tend to get out and shop more. Conversely, the act of shopping may offer a variety of benefits to health and well-being in ways that have little to do with spending money. The authors write:

Elderly people may window shop, obtain prescribed drugs, bank, or walk for exercise, seek companionship and avoid loneliness. Fulfillment of these purposes may generate various health benefits. For example, elders may maintain a mall walking routine, perhaps regarded as shopping activity, although more to do with the need to belong to a community or keep physically active in a safe and convenient environment. Loneliness may be ameliorated through relationships away from home in commercial venues that nevertheless provide opportunities for companionship and emotional support.

This explanation makes sense. Shopping moves your motors, and can brighten up your day and your mind. More physical and positive mental activity should lead to a longer life. “I can believe these findings,” says Brit Beemer, founder and CEO of America’s Research Group. “When you a shop, for example, you are more alert, and that’s a benefit.”

Beemer notes that one of his frequent consumer behavior polls revealed that 90% of people 70 or over regularly use a shopping list. The national average is 72%. Organizing and writing those lists also keep your mind at work.

We shouldn’t exclude consumption as reason shoppers live longer. Buying stuff feels good. Beemer points to one study for which he was a consultant; it found that older women who purchased new clothes tended to live longer. Beemer chalks it up to improved self-esteem.

Bottom line: whether you’re browsing or buying or just hanging out with friends, the older you get, the more trips you might want to take to the store.