As the old saying goes, grandchildren are your reward for putting up with your children.
Being a grandparent lets you experience the pleasant aspects of raising kids without the more stressful bits. You get to experience the unconditional love, teach them new experiences, and watch the grow. Most grandparents won’t have to stay up late with worry and experience those angsty teenage years. One of the most stressful parts of having children is the time and financial commitment, which typically falls to the parents. Therefore, the grandparents have more freedom to spoil their grandchildren. Multiple studies show that spending time with grandchildren can have positive effects on their grandparents’ health, both physically and mentally. Therefore, grandchildren can keep you healthy.
Increasing Physical Activity
Once children begin to crawl and walk, keeping up with them becomes a full time job. They have higher energy levels and shorter attention spans, so babysitting gets seniors moving more. Engaging in physical activity, which is the regular daily movement of our bodies and skeletal muscles, is the #1 way to prevent the deteriorating effects of age on our health and mental state. This does not have to include physical exercise, which are planned activities for the purpose of improving physical strength and skills. In other words, you don’t need to take up skiing to reap these rewards. The preventative benefits from increased physical activity can be achieved by simply walking in a park, making crafts, gardening or even baking cookies.
Lowering the Risk of Diseases
Maintained physical activity is associated with lower instances and prevalence of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Seniors that do engage in activities, such as swimming, walking, and gardening, also show increased strength and energy levels. Living an active lifestyle has also been proven to result in a better quality of sleep, less reports of stress, and decreased rates of depression. So the next time your grandchild comes to visit, suggest a trip to the community pool or park to keep them entertained.
Boosting the Immune System
Along with keeping you more active, grandchildren can also boost your immune system. Interaction with small children exposes seniors to new germs. This can be beneficial for both parties. When exposed to touch, such as hand holding and hugs, the body creates more white blood cells (cells that fight off disease) and less inflammatory cells. However, it is important to remember that this only holds true if neither party is sick. Small children and seniors are both more likely to catch a contagious disease. Babysitting while a grandchild is sick may increase your chances of contracting their illness.
Increasing Cognitive Ability & Health
A recommended way to keep an aging mind sharp is to solve children’s puzzles and memory games. Furthermore, it is also beneficial to learn new tasks, such as how to use a social media outlet. Seniors who engage in social media scored higher on social and cognitive tests in a study by the University of Arizona.
The Women’s Healthy Aging Project conducted a study on 186 women aged 57-68, and found that women who babysat a grandchild one day a week had greater cognitive ability than those who didn’t. They also found that these women had a lower risk of developing cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. These findings support the theory that social engagement can reduce the risk of developing dementia in seniors. However, the study found that caring for grandchildren more than 4 days a week actually decreased the women’s working memory and processing speeds, thereby lowering their cognitive performance. These grandmothers also reported feelings of stress and resentment. Too much social engagement can overload the brain’s processing centers and make it more difficult to pick out and retain important information. So while babysitting in small doses can benefit your health, excessive care-giving can have the opposite effect.
Lowering the Risk of Depression
As children reach adulthood and leave to start families of their own, some seniors experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. Caring for grandchildren can give purpose to grandparents that feel unneeded or burdensome to those around them. Spending time with not only grandchildren but also friends and social groups enhances seniors’ lives in multiple ways. The emotional support given in a grandparent/grandchild relationship can increase the mental health of both parties. This is true for older grandchildren too. A close relationship with adult grandchildren was linked to fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.
Reducing Stress Levels
Lastly, while touch can heighten your immunity, it can also lower your stress levels. Touch increases levels of oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone. Walter Nieri, MD, a geriatrician at Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Ariz says, “A kiss or holding hands gives a sense of calmness, peacefulness, and security if you’re under stress.” Furthermore, grandchildren give grandparents new milestones to look forward to so they are more likely to take their health seriously. Familial love is powerful, and it encourages people to be around for as many birthdays, weddings, and new baby announcements as possible.
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