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Tell the Grandparents! Babysitting Is Actually Good for Their Health

Photograph by Twenty20

We get it: Grandparents shouldn't be treated like default babysitters, but what if we said those who spend time with their grandkids actually live longer than their peers who don't have any responsibilities as carers or supporters? Just think about it. Mom gets an hour or two alone every few days to check her sanity, and Grandpa might have a 37 percent lower mortality risk. It's a win-win. Seriously, a study said so, so it must be true.

Though the study was published last year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, it's again gaining traction this week. Researchers at the University of Basel, University of Western Australia and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin examined data from the more than 500 people ages 70 and up who took part in the massive Berlin Aging Study. The participants participated in interviews and medical tests every two years from 1990 to 2009.

Researchers found that those who babysat lived longer, even if they were babysitting someone else's grandkid. About 50 percent of the grandparents who cared for grandchildren or supported their adult children in some way were still alive 10 years after the initial interview. In comparison, half of the seniors who didn't help others died within five years of the initial interview.

OK, so the study didn't exactly prove cause and effect between helping and mortality, but it did provide some reasoning for the huge difference in mortality rates. For instance, spending time with grandchildren can relieve stress, keep them physically and mentally active, and provide a sense of purpose.

“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,” said Ronan Factora, a doctor of geriatric medicine at Cleveland Clinic who was not involved in the study.

But there has to be a balance. Grandparents shouldn't be caring for their grandchildren all the time, as caregiving to the point of overwhelming stress can have the opposite effect and be detrimental to their health.

If you have the option and do decide to leave the kids with Grandma and Grandpa more often (and if they're OK with it), make sure to educate them on current procedures and guidelines about caring for kids. And if somehow this study doesn't talk them into babysitting, maybe you can try paying them. Hey, we won't judge. It ended up being a great arrangement for this mom!

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