Can You Get Healthier by Shopping?

Hitting the stores can boost your brainpower, lift your mood, and even burn calories. Here’s why shopping can be a healthier activity than you realize.

By Lauren Gelman
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    Can you actually get healthier by shopping?

    You might think that so-called retail therapy is materialistic or hedonistic, but a growing body of research shows that shopping can be a positive, healthy activity. Shopping “releases mood-lifting endorphins, boosts your immune system, keeps your brain nimble, and even fulfills basic social needs,” according to Women’s Health magazine. Here’s a closer look at how looking to buy can benefit your brain, body, and more.

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    Shopping can help you live longer.

    One study of older adults in Taiwan found that those who shopped every day were 27 percent less likely to die than those who shopped less frequently, and the benefits weren’t necessarily tied to splurging on fancy products, Time reported. The researchers think that people who are healthier tend to get out and shop more, helping to keep them physically active and part of a social community. Maintaining a shopping list, as older people are more prone to do than younger adults, is also a good way to sharpen your mental muscle.

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    Your activity level can really add up while shopping.

    Running errands, particularly in malls or cities with expansive downtown areas, can add tack on many miles to your pedometer. One British survey published in 2013 found that women walk 180 miles a year, on average, while they shop—an equivalent of seven marathons, notes StyleCaster.com. Frequent walks can lower many risks, from diabetes to breast cancer—even if you’re strolling a mall instead of putting in time on a treadmill.

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    Shopping lights up the happy part of your brain.

    Shopping just feels good, and now scientists have the brain scans to prove it. They have found that shopping activates the pleasure centers of the brain, those that release the feel-good chemical dopamine. What’s interesting, though, notes the Wall Street Journal, is that dopamine tends to surge with the anticipation of experience more than the actual act—which is why window shopping or bargain hunting can be so satisfying.


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    Shopping builds your confidence.

    Splurging on something you really love is good for your self worth, according to research from the University of Miami and UCLA. Researchers studied the way people felt after they bought an aesthetically pleasing lamp versus a more functional one, Business News Daily reported. Those who bought the better-looking lamp had a spike in self-esteem afterward, which influenced their outlook and decisions later on.

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    Shopping can help ease anxiety about the future.

    “Shopping can be a rich source of mental preparation,” according to Kit Yarrow, PhD, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and contributor to PsychologyToday.com. Think of an expectant couple shopping their baby registry, or a newly single woman getting new bedding after she got divorced. “As people shop they’re naturally visualizing how they’ll use the products they’ll considering, and in doing so they’re also visualizing their new life,” Yarrow explains. Shopping to prepare for life changes helps people feel more in control.

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    Shopping gives your brain a break.

    Yarrow also notes that online shopping can provide a uniquely healthy “timeout” for your brain. “It’s a relatively mindless, relaxing activity,” she explains on PsychologyToday.com. Browsing e-commerce sites during an intense work project can actually improve your ability to focus and make good decisions. “Studies show that our unconscious mind continues to work out problems while we’re engaged in a different activity,” Yarrow said.

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    Shopping encourages creative thinking.

    Shopping can be a creative outlet too, Yarrow told U.S. News & World Report. Picture an artist deciding between two different colors of paint, or a new homeowner sleuthing down the perfect throw pillows for the new living room sofa.


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