Any grandparent who has spent a few hours with their grandchild and been totally exhausted afterward may have reason to question the following statement: Babysitting your littlest ones can lead to a longer life. But, it's true.
One study found grandparents who provided periodic babysitting (not primary parenting services) had a 37% chance of living longer over a 20-year time span compared to their non-caregiving counterparts.
Sleepiness aside, Gerardo Baldassarri, MD, a family physician with Baptist Agewell Center for Health who specializes in the treatment of older adults, agreed there are several benefits derived from interacting with the younger generation:
Social engagement: "We know from assessments in Blue Zones, areas where many people in the population live beyond 100 years, that social interaction is important for longevity," said Dr. Baldassarri. "The fact that the socialization is with a grandchild, which often brings tremendous happiness, adds to the benefit of that interaction."
Physical activity: "Children will make you move around – they want to play. So, you'll be more physically active when you're taking care of them," said Dr. Baldassarri.
Emotional and mental stimulation: "Little kids are fun. They come up with silly ideas. Spending time together allows the grandchild to share their presence and joy with their grandparent," said Dr. Baldassarri. "Additionally, you have to be creative to keep kids from getting bored. Thinking up games and things to do keeps you mentally stimulated. Children also ask a lot of questions. These challenges could help delay cognitive decline."
Stress relief: All of the above can lead to less anxiety. "Less stress in anybody's life adds time to their lifespan," said Dr. Baldassarri.
Grandparents who are homebound or whose little ones live far away needn't worry: Dr. Baldassarri believes the benefits of grandchild/grandparent time carry over to the virtual world, as well. "They're still enjoying that time with a loved one, and it can build a foundation for the days they are together."
It's important to ensure a good balance to having grandma or grandpa watch your little one(s).
"It has to be on their terms," cautioned Dr. Baldassarri. "Babysitting should not occupy the majority of their life, or take place too often. This might overwhelm the older relatives or cause stress, reversing the benefits gained from that special time together."
You should also be cognizant of any physical limitations Nana or Pop-Pop might have.
"Activities should be safe for both the child and the older adult – no climbing ladders or anything crazy if it's a threat to either one's health or well-being," Dr. Baldassarri said.
Not only is it good for parents to have a break from the kids, but having grandparents babysit could help extend their lives while creating lasting memories for the children.
"It's a win-win," said Dr. Baldassarri.
Baptist Health's AgeWell Center for Health helps seniors age 65+ stay active for themselves, family and friends. For more information about our services, or to make an appointment with one of our primary care physicians, click here or call 904.202.4243.
Source: Evolution & Human Behavior