Just in time for the holidays comes this welcome news from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (as cited in More magazine, December 2011/January 2012): Retail Therapy Works!

You weren’t expecting that, were you? Daily shopping seems to cut a woman’s risk for early death by 23 percent (I can’t wait to show this statistic to my husband!). Apparently researchers suspect (without any concrete evidence) that the health benefits are due to the “…physical activity that running errands requires, socializing with people you meet along the way and enjoying the fun of getting out of the house…”

Maybe. But I have another theory (equally without concrete evidence). It’s unclear what type of shopping is referred to here. If it is grocery shopping, then there can definitely be a social component, although I sometimes think the experience at the market can hasten rather than delay death!

I actually believe that it is not the social component that’s crucial in this shopping situation (although having friends and community clearly has important health benefits), but the exact opposite.

It’s the anonymity of the shopping experience that’s soothing. It’s the complete alone time (except for some of those annoying sales women who want to see how you look in every outfit – “no problem, this extra-large runs small; this petite runs large” – but are never around when you actually need a different size!). It’s the all-consuming and all-absorbing distraction of the experience.

Whether we are home with our children, working, in school, or some combination, whether we are married or single, our lives are stressful. Someone or something is always pulling on us. Shopping is one of those rare occasions when we can simultaneously be involved in activity and yet left alone.

All else fades – all the needs awaiting us, the dishes, the work project, the emails, the homework, the term papers, the bills due (this latter can be a problem under the circumstances!) as we focus solely on the situation at hand.

There’s just enough activity to keep our minds and bodies involved but not enough to engage our emotions, leaving us – albeit briefly – anxiety free. (Madison Avenue take note!)

So I wasn’t surprised to read that statistic, just a little taken aback at its source. And I don’t think the lesson is really that we need to shop more (okay dear, you can breathe a sigh of relief now). The point is that we need to refresh and reinvigorate ourselves. And in order to do, we need to find activities that occupy our minds and bodies but not our hearts.

Perhaps cooking, perhaps exercise. Perhaps a Torah class. (There I said it -- I am a Rebbetzin after all.) A Torah study class actually fits the bill perfectly – it’s completely intellectually engaging and all-involving without any emotional pain. I don’t know if the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health wants to conduct that study but I’m sure they would find that women involved in learning Torah, women who have an in-depth involvement with the wisdom of our heritage and the words and lessons of our Creator have decreased their risk of early death even more.