You stay sharp
Spending just the right amount of time with grandchildren could sharpen your cognitive skills. When Australian researchers studied 120 grandmothers, they found that those who helped care for grandchildren one day per week scored highest on memory and other mental tests. But those who spent five or more days a week taking care of grandchildren performed significantly worse. “Interaction with other people could cause stimulation of certain nerve pathways that are beneficial to our brain,” says Sharon Brangman, MD, a board member of the Health and Aging Foundations at the American Geriatrics Society. “But we also know stress can impact brain power and memory. People who are grandparenting too much may have high stress levels and therefore not getting that cognitive benefit.” The takeaway? Enjoy grandparenting, but take some rest time for yourself too. Try doing these 10 little things to keep your brain sharp and healthy later in life.
You are more active
Taking a grandbaby on a neighborhood stroll or running around the yard with older kids benefits the child’s health and your own. 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. “Grandparents are more likely [than older adults without grandchildren] to get up, get dressed, walk somewhere, and be physically active,” says Kristine Arthur, MD, an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. “One of the biggest things I tell older adults is to not stop moving, even if it’s a small activity.” Don't believe this common myths about aging.
You have a lower risk of depression
The benefits of grandparenting continue as grandchildren grow older. 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. Here's how you can help someone with depression, according the psychologists.
You keep learning
Getting involved in your grandchildren’s activities can help your brain. “One thing that’s recommended to prevent memory loss in seniors is playing children’s puzzles and games, such as flipping over cards to remember things,” says Dr. Arthur. Learning new technology with your grandchildren offers similar benefits. A University of Arizona study found that seniors taught how to use Facebook and who were asked to post messages once a day scored 25 percent higher on cognitive and social tests after eight weeks than those who kept a virtual diary or didn’t do anything. “With memory decline being one of the biggest things people fear, any time you learn something new, it’s a big deal,” says Dr. Arthur. These are the best brain-boosting activities you can do, according to science.
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You have a stronger immune system
Hugging or holding hands with your grandchildren can strengthen immunity and help you age better. “When people are exposed to more touch, they often have a decrease in inflammatory cells and an increase in white blood cells, the fighter cells,” says Dr. Arthur. A University of Virginia study found that hand holding can reduce pain and lower blood pressure, and related research has linked hugs with higher levels of oxytocin and decreased stress levels. “A kiss or holding hands gives a sense of calmness, peacefulness, and security if you’re under stress,” says Walter Nieri, MD, a geriatrician at Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Ariz. “Relieving stress delays the shortening of telomeres, [a cellular process] associated with aging.”
You rediscover a sense of purpose
Getting older can mean losing connections with friends or family members who have moved or passed away. According to the Pew Research Center, 17 percent of older adults ages 65 and older feel lonely and about 10 percent feel unneeded or as though they’re a burden. “Grandchildren counteract that social isolation and loneliness,” says Dr. Nieri. “They give older people a sense of belonging and responsibility. It’s good for their self-esteem that they’re taking care of their grandchildren.”
You're motivated to take care of yourself
When a grandchild enters the picture, you may start to think about future events you want to help celebrate—from first steps to college graduation. “The sad thing with a lot of seniors is that they don’t want to care about themselves,” says Dr. Arthur. “But they want to be around for their grandchildren’s milestones. They’ll actually start taking care of themselves by eating better or taking their medication.”
Keeps you social
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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.”