Looking after grandkids can add 5 years to grandparents' lives 1 month ago

Looking after grandkids can add 5 years to grandparents' lives

Do you ever feel guilty for yet again calling on your parents to babysit?

...or when you ask them to get the kids from creche when you suddenly find yourself running late from the office?

Don't. You are not troubling them – you are instead doing them a massive favour.

At least if this study is to be believed, which claims helping care for their grandchildren can add as much as five years to grandparents' lives.

The remarkable research, published late last year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Evolution and Human Behaviour, is, according to the study authors, the first of its kind in the world to show such a link.

And never mind eating your greens or sending granny to senior yoga, this study indicates that caring for grandchildren increases life expectancy significantly more than being healthy, active and independent.

"It is quite striking," says Doctor David Coall from Edith Cowan University in Australia, one of the study's authors.

"To our surprise and interest we found that grandparents who looked after their grandchildren survived five years longer than those that did not."

Indeed. In the study of 516 people aged 70 and over, the researchers found that those who occasionally cared for grandchildren had a 37 percent reduced risk of dying in the next 10 years.

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Caring for others increases happiness and health

There is a growing body of research showing caregiving activity – where you do something for someone and expect nothing in return – has significant health benefits, Dr Coall said.

"Talking to a lot of grandparents, we find they speak most often about the happiness, satisfaction and pride that they feel about looking after their grandchildren. This might be one of the only situations in your whole life where you're doing something and you expect nothing in return."

The researchers also looked at grandparents who did housework or fixed things for their adult children, and grandparents without children who supported others in their social network. Both groups had significantly increased lifespans.

Interestingly, the same impact is not seen for grandparents who, sometimes through tragic circumstances, become primary carers. This group suffers a significant decline in life expectancy, Dr Coall said.

"This pattern suggests that there is a link not only between helping and beneficial health effects, but also between helping and mortality, and specifically between grandparental caregiving and mortality," the study concludes.

The researchers also looked at grandparents who did housework or fixed things for their adult children, and grandparents without children who supported others in their social network. Both groups had significantly increased lifespans.

As to what causes these dramatic results, the researchers have two competing theories.

First, grandparents who are thinking about or focussed on caring for their grandchildren are much more likely to also be thinking about caring for themselves – eating well, getting plenty of exercise.

The second theory puts the results down to the power of emotion.

"There is quite a bit of research now that suggests this helping behaviour and the feelings of happiness can act as a stress buffer," Dr Coall said.

"People who are helping other people, but don't expect any return, this is the help that you get the most health benefits from."

If that doesn't convince you to call granny for some babysitting services and book yourself a date night, we don't know what will!

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