Babysitting grandchildren may lead to a longer life
Grandparents love doing this anyway so it's perfect!
Catherine Marucci

Many myths and legends have been built around the pursuit of the fountain of youth. For a long time, that’s all these were – myths and legends.

Times have changed.

There has been a significant increase in researchers focusing their entire lives on finding the solution to longevity.

With millions of dollars from venture capitalists, we are beginning to see some results in efforts to extend the human lifespan.

However, not all research on longevity is based on tweaking DNA or turning someone into a pincushion.

Some of the most promising results have been based on lifestyle studies. Here’s a closer look at one of those.

The study

A team of international researchers drawn from the University of Basel, Humboldt University, University of Western Australia, and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development set out to find out whether care-giving in old age has any effects on one’s mortality.

The study, with rather interesting results, was published in the journal called Evolution and Human Behavior.

roons via Flickr
roons via Flickr

Let’s look at a few of the technical details of the study

The team used the Berlin Aging Study (BASE) as a reference and randomly picked participants. Based on the records they retrieved from Western Berlin, they narrowed it down to 516 people between the ages of 70 and 103.

The study began in 1990 and lasted up until 2009. In these 20 years, the participants would be interviewed every two years to keep track of how they lived.

orunge via Flickr
orunge via Flickr

The 516 participants were split into three groups

The first group was made up of grandparents who offered some sort of support to their grandchildren while the second group was made up of grandparents who did not offer any support. The final group was made up of people who did not have grandchildren but offered support to other members of society like their neighbors.

The researchers, however, did not include grandparents who were primary or custodial caregivers for their grandchildren.

The reason for this exclusion is the fact that in Germany and Switzerland, where the study was carried out, it isn’t customary for grandparents to be primary caregivers for grandchildren. Including them would have led to inconsistencies in the results.

bobby Joanna Jasper Zoly via Flickr
bobby Joanna Jasper Zoly via Flickr

The results

Half of those in the first group (those who took care of their grandkids) were alive ten years after the study began in 1990.

The third group (those without grandchildren who offered care to others in society) also had half of their participants living well into that 10-year mark.

In contrast, half of those in the second group (those who didn’t offer any care or support) passed away five years into the study.

The study confirmed that the benefits of giving some form of care or support were not just for family members only. Those who helped care for their neighbors and other members of society were seen to live seven years into the study.

In a German interview with the Max Planck Institute for Human Development where he is the director of the Center for Adaptive Rationality, Professor Ralph Hertwig warned that the results of the study should not be mistaken as the sole solution to living a longer life.

He mentioned similar studies done in the past that showed that grandparents who were too involved in taking care of their grandkids experienced stress that negatively affected their physical and mental health.

lisahynes via Flickr
lisahynes via Flickr

It’s all about balance

Professor Bruno Arpino may not have been part of the team that did the study, but he is an associate professor at Fabra University in Barcelona.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, he offered the following as possible explanations to why grandparents lived longer by helping take care of their grandkids.

It gives grandparents a sense of purpose

Before being branded “seniors,” grandparents had jobs. They did everything to provide for and raise their children. They interacted with other parents and had social lives that mostly revolved around their children.

Now, they’re retired. Their kids are all grown up and living their own lives away from them. Helping their children by taking care of their grandchildren gives them a reason to live in their old age. This improves mood and general mental health.

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davedemerjian via Flickr
davedemerjian via Flickr

It keeps grandparents active

If you’ve been with a child for more than an hour, you know how demanding they can be. Taking walks, going to the park, playing hide and seek, or just cooking together are some of the many activities to take part in to entertain and bond with grandkids.

All these are physically demanding, thus keeping grandparents active in their old age.

It increases social interactions

Loneliness can be severe in old age. The hustle and bustle you grow used to while taking care of kids is soon replaced by long days with absolutely nothing to do. Social circles also grow significantly smaller as people move or pass away.

Taking care of grandchildren offers an opportunity to be around family, not just grandchildren. This can help battle depression that is common in seniors.

It turns out that family may be a part of the fountain of youth.

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