When I was growing up, having a sleepover at grandma and grandpa’s house was the best. Grandma always made our favorite foods and let us have things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that our mom would never have. Grandpa used to take us on adventures through the orchards nearby – it was just pure fun. As it turns out, not only are there huge benefits to grandchildren spending time with grandma and grandpa but grandparents who babysit benefit, too: They might just live longer.
Study Shows Grandparents Who Babysit Live Longer
According to the Berlin Aging Study, grandparents who babysit live longer than those who don’t. The study followed more than 500 elderly German people between 70 and 100 years old. (1) The researchers examined the participants (1)’:
- Mental health
- Physical health
- Psychological functioning
- Social and economic situation
Surviving participants were re-examined seven times. (1)
The researchers found that grandparents who babysit have a 37% lower mortality risk (risk of dying) than those who didn’t. The study also found that the older persons received the benefits even if they were taking care of children who weren’t their own grandkids. (1)
Why Do Grandparents Who Babysit Live Longer?
This is, naturally, a very complex question, and the exact answer is hard to pin down because there are just so many factors that contribute to a person’s longevity. Researchers suspect, however, that it likely has to do with grandchildren keeping their grandparents active, mentally and physically. (1, 2)
The Caregiving Process
Some studies have looked at why humans are the only animals, except for a species of whale, with grandparents.
The Grandmother Hypothesis suggests that women live so long past their reproductive age to assist with raising children. Their help makes it easier for the younger women to raise children – and make more babies. (3) Not only do the parents benefit, but science shows that grandchildren have huge mental and physical health benefits from spending time with grandparents, as well. (2)
Moreover, scientists now better understand the neural and hormonal system that activates the caregiving process. Rooted in parenting and then grandparenting, evidence shows activating this system has positive health implications for the caregiver. These positive effects occur regardless of whether the person’s age or whether that person is biologically related to them. (4) So while babysitting grandchildren can be one way of reaping the benefits, the moral of the story here is just to spend more time taking care of others. Of course, the key is balance, as excessive care can also put a toll on someone.
Social and Physical Benefits
Babysitting provides grandparents with much-needed social interaction. Often as people age, they become increasingly isolated from others. Regular babysitting provides them with a social outlet and companionship. (2)
Anyone who has kids or has at least babysat for a few hours knows how energetic and active children can be. Grandparents who babysit are more active physically because they play with their grandkids, take them to the park, and more. They’re more mentally active, as well, playing board games, puzzles, and other brain-stimulating games. (2)
“We know that as you age, you want to stay physically active; you want to stay socially engaged; you want to be cognitively stimulated, and all those things allow you to age well,” (5)Dr. Ronan Factora of the Cleveland Clinic
Lastly, grandparents who babysit have a purpose to their day. For many elderly persons, finding a daily purpose post-retirement is difficult. A lack of purpose can largely affect one’s mental health and lead to depression. Taking care of their favorite little rascals is the best possible way they can spend their day. (2)
Not Just Grandchildren
As alluded to previously, the caregiving process isn’t just present for older adults – it can improve the health of anyone who is taking care of someone else. The University of Basel in Switzerland found that older adults who cared for anyone in their social circle reaped the benefits. (6)
Even childless older adults who provided emotional support to those within their social circle lived an extra seven years on average versus just four extra years for those who didn’t. (6)
The conclusion is that having a solid social circle is extremely important as you age. Being a helping hand in that social circle will improve your health even more. (6)
Grandparents Who Babysit Need Breaks
Any parents reading this thinking, “Yes! I can unload all of my babysitting needs on Grandma and Grandpa!” slow your roll. While yes, babysitting is good for them, too much has the opposite effect. (2, 7)
One study on grandmothers showed that one day a week of babysitting decreased the older women’s Alzheimer’s risk; however, five or more days increased their risk for neurodegenerative disorders. (7)
Moreover, grandparents who took on the bulk of child-raising responsibilities, or perhaps had to take over completely, experience poorer health overall. Taking care of grandchildren can be tiring and tough on grandma and grandpa’s aging bodies. When they are full-time caregivers, raising grandkids adds to their stress rather than improving it. (2)
If you’re lucky enough to have two sets of grandparents at your disposal, fantastic! Switch up the babysitting duties between them, so everyone gets the benefits. If not, be careful that you’re not asking too much of grams and gramps. Try also including siblings, friends, or a trusted babysitter in the child-minding duties.
- “Solidarity in the Grandparent-Adult Grandchild Relationship and Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms.” PubMed. Sara M Moorman, et al. June 2016.
- “Grandmothering, menopause, and the evolution of human life histories.” PNAS. K. Hawkes, et al. February 3, 1998.
- “Caregiving within and beyond the family is associated with lower mortality for the caregiver: A prospective study.” Science Direct. Sonja Hilbrand, et al. May 2017.
- “Grandparents who Babysit Grandkids May Live Longer.” Newsroom. September 7, 2017.
- “Helping pays off: People who care for others live longer.” Unibas. December 22, 2016.
- “Role of grandparenting in postmenopausal women’s cognitive health: results from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project.” PubMed. Katherine F Burn, et al. October 21, 2014.