For older people, getting out of the house regularly may contribute to a longer life - and the effect is independent of medical problems or mobility issues, according to new research from Israel.
For study participants in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the frequency with which they left the house predicted how likely they were to make it to the next age milestone, researchers report in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
"The simple act of getting out of the house every day propels people into engagement with the world," said lead author Dr. Jeremy Jacobs of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem in a phone interview.
"We saw similar benefits that you'd expect from treating blood pressure or cholesterol with medicine," Jacobs said. "Social factors are important in the process of aging."
Jacobs and colleagues analysed data on 3,375 adults at ages 70, 78, 85 and 90 who were participating in the Jerusalem Longitudinal Study.
Based on their responses to questions about how often they left the house, participants were grouped into three categories: frequently (six or seven days per week), often (two to five times per week) or rarely (once a week or less).
People who left the house frequently at any of the ages examined were significantly more likely to live to the next age group. For example, among people who left the house frequently, often or rarely at age 78, 71 per cent, 67 per cent and 43 per cent, respectively, survived to age 85. Among people who left the house frequently, often or rarely at age 90, 64 per cent, 56 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively, made it to 95.
At all ages, people who left home less frequently tended to be male, less educated and to have higher rates of loneliness, financial difficulties, poor health, fatigue, poor sleep, less physical activity, bladder and bowel problems, history of falling in the last year, fear of falling, visual and hearing impairments, chronic pain and frailty.
The link between leaving the house and longevity, however, remained after the researchers accounted for medical or mobility issues such as chronic pain, vision or hearing impairment, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease.
"We included people who had mobility difficulties, so this isn't just about people moving their legs up and down," Jacobs said. "That's quite exciting. There's something about interacting with the world outside that helps."
The study did not examine the effect on participants of leaving the house, such as their sense of wellbeing or purpose. It also didn't look at environmental factors that might foster or prevent going out, the authors note.
Future studies will look at the oldest cohort (age 95) as they reach 98 to 100 in coming years, Jacobs said. He and his colleagues are also interested in the role that optimism, social engagement and environmental aspects such as community sidewalks play in longer life.
"Studies show that if you create walkways that are friendly for walking, people start walking," he said. "In neighborhoods with older adults, walkways with benches could encourage them to get out of the house and be social."
Researchers are interested in finding ways to encourage adults to leave their home more and to develop systems that help them do that, said Dawn Mackey of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, who wasn't involved in the study.
"It may be helpful for older adults and their caregivers to make plans to go out of the house more often," she told Reuters Health by email. "And try to build up to going out of the house every day."
They could plan these outings with these questions: When will it work best for me to leave the house? Where do I want to go? Is there someone to go out with or to meet when I am out? What are my options if the weather is bad or if I'm not feeling well one day?
"The wellbeing of our older adults is of paramount importance for public health and economic viability," she said. "Going out of the house is an important way to maintain mobility and social engagement and ward off loneliness."