The scientists set out to discover whether caregiving grandparents were more likely to live longer than grandparents who did not have any caregiving duties. And it looks like they got an answer – mortality rates were lower among caregivers.
Of course, when dealing with a population over 70 years of age, there are also other things to consider – for example, overall health, gender, and age. But even adjusting for the fact that younger, healthier, females tend to live longer, there was still evidence that grandparents who babysat grandchildren lived longer lives.
Grandparents who did not babysit their grandchildren and those who had no grandchildren at all tended to have the same mortality rates, indicating that it’s not the existence of grandchildren that’s important but the caregiving responsibility that helps people live longer.
But the study also found that continuing to care for your own children also helps you live longer.
No children? No problem. Caregiving is at the heart of mortality, whether you’re related to the person you care for or not. The study found that those who supported other people within their social network also lived longer.
Overall, the study found a pattern of longer lives among those who helped others, but it was strongest among those who cared for grandchildren.
We’re not entirely sure yet how babysitting the grandkids leads to better health and longer lives though. But it’s been suggested that there’s an evolutionary mechanism at work – those who care for others benefit in some biological way that allows them to maintain better health longer. This makes sense since our ancestors’ families would have been safer and more secure with more caregivers around.
It’s important to note that babysitting the grandkids and taking on full custodial care of them at an old age are very different things, and the latter can actually harm the long-term health of grandparents because of the stress it puts on them.
Finally, we need to recognize that the results of the study show a correlation between a longer life and caregiving. That’s different from proving causation.
So while you should cherish every moment with your grandkids, it’s not a good idea to force yourself into a family situation that stresses everyone out.
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