Sure exercise and a healthy diet can add years to one's life — and, evidently, so can babysitting grandchildren. According to recent research, grandparents who watch their grandchildren live another five years on average. When you think about how much exercise it is to run around chasing a toddler, the science isn't all that surprising. But there's more to the science than just keeping physically active — grandparents who babysit are more socially engaged and cognitively stimulated, as well.
The study, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, analyzed data from the Berlin Aging Study, which tracked the health outcomes of more than 500 people ages 70 years and older. In the original main study (which took place between 1990 and 1993), researchers closely examined a core sample of 516 individuals in 14 sessions, covering their mental and physical health, their psychological functioning and their social and economic situation. Since then, surviving participants have been reexamined seven times, as the study has been continued as a longitudinal study.
By looking at the data, the new research found that babysitting grandkids or providing at least some level of care for them actually lowered those adults' risks of death over a 20-year period.
In fact, a host of research also suggests that, when grandparents babysit, their presence also benefits their grandchildren. Young children who are cared for by grandparents tend to develop better vocabulary skills, and learn more about their roots and culture than young children who are not cared for by their grandparents.
This is not science's first link between babysitting and longevity of life among grandparents. In a 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, researchers found came to a similar conclusion. The researchers had also discovered that any childless adults who provided childcare lived an average of three years longer. Another study out of Australia also suggests that spending a moderate amount of time caring for grandkids may prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by increasing brain function and memory.
Of course, babysitting the grandchildren can also take a toll on older adults if there's too much pressure on them. Previous studies have discovered that grandparents and other informal caregivers can start to feel physical and psychological stress if they're too heavily involved. That, of course, can lead to stress-related illnesses.
Because every family is different, it's important to have open dialogue about boundaries and expectations for everyone involved.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.