Dr Yu-Hung Chang from the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan, and colleagues, studied nearly 1,850 elderly people aged 65 and over who were living independently at home and who took part in the nationally representative 1999-2000 Elderly Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan (NAHSIT Elderly).
Participants answered questions about how often they went shopping, with responses ranging from "never" to "every day".
They also completed questionnaires that helped researchers assess their intellectual and physical function, and gave the usual demographic information such as financial status, employment status, age, gender, education, and ethnicity, plus lifestyle, health behaviors, and chronic disease/medical status.
This data was then cross-referenced to national death registers covering 1999 to 2008 to find out which of the participants had died during that period.
The results showed that:
- Nearly two-thirds of participants were under the age of 75, and 54% were men.
- 48% of the participants never or rarely shopped during the week, 22% shopped between 2 and 4 times a week, 17% shopped every day, and the rest shopped once a week.
- Most participants had a healthy lifestyle, and around three quarters were financially self-sufficient.
- 60% of participants had either one or two long term medical conditions.
- Those who went shopping more than once a week tended to be men at the younger end of the age range.
- This group had a higher proportion of smokers and drinkers, tended to have bettern physical and mental health, took more regular exercise and were more likely to have a network of dinner companions.
- Compared with the least frequent shoppers, those who shopped every day had a 27% lower risk of death.
- For men this figure was 28% compared to 23% for women.
They used different types of analysis to consider the potential effects of physical limitations and cognitive impairment, but these still showed that daily shoppers lived longer than infrequent shoppers.
They conceded that perhaps the ability to shop is just reflective of a person's health, and frequent shoppers are just healthier people, but they also said it could work the other way around: frequent shopping itself may benefit health, for instance by increasing the opportunity to buy food, take an interest in your diet and health, meet companions, and also take exercise in a way that is easier and requires less motivation than formal methods.
"Shopping captures several dimensions of personal well-being, health and security as well as contributing to the community's cohesiveness and economy and may represent or actually confer increased longevity," they noted.
"Frequent shopping by men and women increases survival in the older Taiwanese population."
Yu-Hung Chang, Rosalind Chia-Yu Chen, Mark L Wahlqvist, Meei-Shyuan Lee.
J Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 6 April 2011.
Additional source: BMJ-British Medical Journal (press release, 6 Apr 2011).