Providing ‘occasional childcare’ to grandchildren can increase life expectancy

Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer

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However, even those without grandchildren lived longer than those who did but didn’t help out with childcare, if they had “provided care for others in their social network”. Ralph Hertwig, director from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, said: “A moderate level of caregiving involvement does seem to have positive effects on health.” He did note that “more intensive involvement causes stress”.

Becoming too relied upon for childcare seemingly “has negative effects on physical and mental health”.

This is especially true for grandparents who “take custodial care of their grandchildren”.

More than 500 people aged between 70 and 103 years of age were involved in the study.

Their data was collated from the the Berlin Ageing Study, which ran from 1990 to 2009.

The results demonstrated half of the grandparents who took care of their grandchildren were still alive about 10 years after the first interview in 1990.

The same applied to participants who did not have grandchildren, but still supported their children – for example, by helping with housework.

In contrast, about half of those who didn’t lend a helping hand – in either capacity – died within five years.

This is half the amount of time the other group survived for, suggesting that providing care to children or grandchildren can extend longevity.

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Those who didn’t have any children also benefitted from providing emotional support to others.

Half of the childless adults who supported others emotionally lived for another seven years compared to “non-helpers”.

In comparison, childless seniors who were considered “non-helpers” only lived for four years after the first interview in 1990.

Providing emotional support is one example of a positive and healthy relationship.

Northwestern Medicine list other qualities of a healthy relationship, which includes:

  • Listening to each other
  • Communicating openly and without judgment
  • Trust and respect for each other
  • Consistently making time for each other
  • Remembering details about each other’s lives
  • Engaging in healthy activities together

“As humans, the relationships we form with other people are vital to our mental and emotional wellbeing, and really, our survival,” Northwestern Medicine said.

Being in a committed relationship is linked to less production of cortisol – the stress hormone.

In addition, the presence of emotional support “can go a long way toward helping a person recover from a procedure or illness”.

Research also suggests that healthy social relationships has a “bigger impact on avoiding early death than taking blood pressure medication”.

“One study even suggests that a lack of social relationships has the same effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” said Northwestern Medicine.

For those who may be feeling lonely, the NHS advise talking about your feelings to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor.

You can also contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected] if you want someone to talk to.

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