Your grandchildren do more than fill your heart with joy — they can help you stay mentally sharp, physically active and fight disease
Are you a grandmother or grandfather? If you are one of the 70 million people in the U.S. who has a grandchild, you are reaping some wonderful benefits. Here are four ways being a grandparent is helping you stay healthy.
1) Boosts Your Immune System
Do you love coddling your grandchildren? If so, you may be warding off disease.
Hugging or holding hands with your grandchildren can strengthen immunity and help you age better. A University of Virginia study found that when people are exposed to more touch, they often have a decrease in inflammatory cells and an increase in white blood cells, known as the “fighter cells.” Researchers found that hand holding can reduce pain and lower blood pressure, and linked hugs with higher levels of oxytocin — the so-called “love” hormone — and decreased stress levels.
That’s because a kiss or holding hands gives a sense of calmness, peacefulness, and security if you’re under stress.
2) Keeps You Active
Remember what it was like to care for your own children, especially when they were very young? You probably chased after them quite a bit!
In a 2011 AARP report, 58 percent of grandparents said they participated in physical activities such as playing sports, exercising and gardening with their grandchildren, and 55 percent reported going on outings to museums and amusement parks.
Senior adults who stay active reap many benefits. Not only does physical exercise improve joint mobility and increase strength and energy, but it can improve sleep, enhance brain function, and help prevent illness and disease.
3) Keeps You Connected and Helps Improve Mood
According to the Pew Research Center, 17 percent of older adults ages 65 and older feel lonely, and roughly 10 percent feel unneeded or think they’re a burden to their loved ones.
Spending time with a grandchild is a sure-fire way to counteract social isolation and loneliness, and it can also make you feel needed.
It’s also beneficial for your grandchild. When Boston College researchers analyzed data from a long-term study on 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, they found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was linked to fewer symptoms of depression in both generations. The more emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from each other, the better their mental health.
Just be careful not to overdo your time with grandchildren. Being a primary caregiver to a grandchild, for example, can actually increase stress levels and leave you feeling constantly exhausted.
4) Stimulates the Brain
As any parent or grandparent can tell you, looking after a high-energy child requires a great deal of mental vigor and flexibility. This is a good thing; not using your mind is one of the quickest ways to accelerate the effects of aging. Playing games with and reading to a grandchild, for example, helps you stay mentally sharp.
Don’t have grandchildren? Experts suggest that those without grandchildren or strong ties to other family consider volunteering with children (studies have shown this maintains cognitive skills) or getting a pet. “You really see an amazingly huge benefit in people who get dogs,” says Dr. Arthur. “Pets can improve depression, get people walking, and are there to cuddle.”