Does engagement with life enhance survival of elderly people in Sweden? The role of social and leisure activities

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2001 Nov;56(6):S335-42. doi: 10.1093/geronb/56.6.s335.


Objectives: This research examined whether engagement with life, defined as involvement in social, leisure, and productive activities, produced a survival advantage among oldest old persons in Sweden. Survival was investigated with respect to activities that involved (a) social integration, (b) physical mobility, and (c) neither social nor physical aspects. The authors also investigated the degree to which any observed survival benefits were related to prior health differences that select older adults into active roles.

Methods: Baseline data derived from the Swedish Panel Study of Living Conditions of the Oldest Old, a nationally representative sample of persons aged 77 years and older living in Sweden in 1992. The authors used factor analysis to apply a simplifying measurement structure to frequency of participation in 10 leisure activities. They used Cox proportional hazard regression to estimate the relative effects of activity factors and other independent variables on the logged hazard rate of mortality up to 1996.

Results: Analyses revealed 4 domains of activities that lie along 2 basic dimensions: solitary-social and sedentary-active. Among men, only participation in activities that were both solitary and active was significantly associated with reduced mortality risk when health variables were controlled. Among women, none of the activity domains was significant when health variables were controlled. For the entire sample, greater participation in solitary-active activities significantly reduced risk of mortality when all other activity domains and health factors were controlled.

Discussion: Although most of the observed associations between activity involvement and survival are a byproduct of the confound between poor initial health and low activity levels, solitary activities have a positive influence on the survival of very old individuals, especially men, suggesting that nonsocial aspects of activities may promote health and longevity in late old age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities
  • Longevity*
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Motor Activity
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Environment
  • Sweden