1. Health

Daily Grocery Shopping May Increase Longevity

How can we apply these lessons to our lives?

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Updated April 18, 2011

My wife recently commented to me that in order to be inspired to cook, it really helped to shop right before making the food. "It's much more fun to cook with fresh ingredients," she said. "I guess if we want to eat at home more, it will really help to schedule more frequent trips to the grocery store."

Luckily, we live within walking distance of one of the large chains selling healthy food. She has incorporated walking to get groceries into many of her days. Not only is she enjoying the exercise, she admits that she is much more likely to cook the food that she buys. In the past, food would get forgotten or go bad and get thrown out.

I do know that we are eating delicious, healthy food at home. My wife even lets me come with her some of the time to the store, and if I'm really good, I'm allowed in the kitchen to help cook. She is right – eating this way is more fun than trying to figure out what to heat up out of the freezer.

I was pretty excited to find the study mentioned below, which supports some of the things that we had figured out on our own.

Turns Out That Daily Shopping Leads to a Longer Life

A study conducted among elderly people in Taiwan showed that people who shopped daily were 27% less likely to die over a 10-year period than people who "rarely" or "never" shopped. The analysis controlled for factors such as physical and cognitive function.

Possible Reasons That Daily Shopping May Increase Health

Healthier Food: With the invention of megastores like Costco and Walmart, many people see a big weekly shopping trip as a way to save time and get more efficient, not to mention saving money by buying "economy sizes" of food. However, much of the food that will keep on the shelf or in the freezer for at least a week (or until the giant box or bag is gone) tends to not be the healthiest stuff.

Indeed it is the food that "spoils" that is the best for you – fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats – while the food with the longest shelf (or freezer) life tends to be processed food. (Of course, there are exceptions in the form of frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as dried beans and whole grains.)

Exercise: Getting out there and buying groceries on a daily basis takes some effort. You have to move to get to the store and move once you are in the store.

Social Interaction: If you are elderly and living on your own, it is possible for long periods of time to pass without seeing anyone. Daily grocery shopping gets people into the mix. They feel like a part of a community. Even interacting with a person stocking produce to ask if a cantaloupe seems ripe is a form of communication, and that has been shown to increase longevity.

How to Apply This to Your Life

Eat Real Food: My favorite person to quote when it comes to healthy food choices is Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, who puts it simply: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." One of his basic philosophies is that we shouldn't eat anything our great-grandmothers wouldn't recognize as food. I didn't know my great-grandmother, but she was raised on a farm. I simply cannot imagine what she would have thought if handed her a package of Bagel Bites or Taquitos and directed her toward the microwave, but I doubt she would have eaten those things. Read more about Michael Pollan and his approach to eating: The Michael Pollan Diet – 9 Principles for Healthy Eating

Do your best to eat fresh produce. Include some whole grains and beans, and lean meat, if you wish. Try to eat food that you cook as often as possible. If you are not a whiz in the kitchen just yet, here are some tips to get you started: How to Learn to Love Cooking.

Move More When Doing Tasks: Maybe you are not in a situation or a location that allows you to walk to the grocery store every day. That's OK – just get up and start moving while getting your tasks done. You've heard it all before: Choose a parking place farther from the entrance to a store, do some gardening, take the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.

Experts say that we should aim for 10,000 steps a day, which equals approximately 5 miles. Try strapping on a pedometer to measure how many steps you get in a typical day. You might be dismayed to see how few steps you actually take. However, increase your movement just a little and you may be surprised how quickly the steps add up. Take a look at some tips to use a pedometer to increase your physical activity: Pedometers and Improving Health.

Talk to Other People: Humans are social creatures. Studies have shown that social interactions help elderly people stay healthy – one such study reviewed data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging and found that social interactions slowed functional decline - in other words, it delayed the loss of those things that start slowing down as we age, such as mobility and cognitive abilities.

Take a look at the second step in my series of Simple Steps to Increase Your Life Expectancy, Life Expectancy Increased by Hanging Out.

Bottom Line

Even if grocery shopping every day doesn't get you excited, there are many ways to improve longevity by staying active, staying involved and eating healthy food.

Sources:

Chang YH, Chen RC, Wahlqvist ML, Lee MS. Frequent shopping by men and women increases survival in the older Taiwanese population. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2011 Apr 6. [Epub ahead of print]

>Unger JB, Johnson CA, Marks G. Functional decline in the elderly: Evidence for direct and stress-buffering protective effects of social interactions and physical activity. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Volume 19, Number 2, 152-160.

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