We’ve all been there: confined to our homes for days, or even weeks, thanks to the dreaded flu or some other ailment. When you’re finally able to go outside, there’s no feeling quite like it. And for older adults, this seemingly simple pleasure could be life-saving.
New research finds that older people who leave their homes every day are likelier to live longer than those who remain indoors, regardless of their health status or functional capacity.
Lead study author Dr. Jeremy Jacobs, from the Hadassah Hebrew-University Medical Center in Israel, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
According to a 2015 study, approximately 2 million older adults in the United States never or rarely leave their homes, primarily due to functional difficulties.
Not only does this have implications for their physical health — due to lack of exercise, for example — but it can harm their psychological health, too. Research has shown that those who are confined to their homes are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
For their study, Dr. Jacobs and colleagues set out to investigate whether or not the frequency with which an older adult leaves their home might be associated with mortality.
The research included 3,375 adults aged between 70 and 90 years. All adults were enrolled in the 1990–2015 Jerusalem Longitudinal Study.
As a part of the study, participants completed questionnaires about how often they left their homes each week. They were divided into three groups, based on their answers: daily (six to seven times weekly), often (two to five times weekly), and rarely (less than once per week).
Mortality among the participants was assessed from 2010 to 2015.
The researchers found that older adults who left their homes on a daily basis were at the lowest risk of death, while those who rarely left their homes had the highest mortality risk.
“What is interesting is that the improved survival associated with getting out of the house frequently was also observed among people with low levels of physical activity, and even those with impaired mobility,” says Dr. Jacobs. “Resilient individuals remain engaged, irrespective of their physical limitations.”
These findings also remained after accounting for the participants’ social status and other medical conditions, including visual impairment, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and chronic kidney disease.
While the precise reasons behind these findings were not explored in the study, the scientists note that getting out of the house frequently gives older adults the chance to engage with the outside world.
What is more, going outdoors provides greater opportunity for social interaction, which studies have linked to better overall health and well-being in seniors.
So, it seems that simply going outside to chat with the neighbor or taking a quick trip to the local grocery store could do the world of good for older adults’ health.