“Kids are hard—they drive you crazy and break your heart—whereas grandchildren make you feel great about life, and yourself, and your ability to love someone unconditionally, finally, after all these years.” – Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required
‘It’s Never Too Late to be Active’ is a campaign by the UK’s Herts County Council to encourage kids to inspire their grandparents to become more active. The council estimates physical inactivity to cost more than $30 million annually as well as being the fourth most significant cause of death and disability, responsible for one in six UK deaths.
The project kicked off in May with a ‘day mile’ walk led by Oakfields Primary school. “Being active is nature’s prescription as it has so many mental and health benefits whatever our age,” Jim McManus, the council’s director of public health, tells the Welwyn Hatfield Times, “yet a quarter of 55-64-year-olds are completely inactive and 40% are not meeting the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes activity a week.” Nothing, he adds, better motivates the seniors than kids.
According to a German study published last year in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, grandparents (excluding those who are primary carers) who babysit their grandkids live longer. The paper states that data from the study shows “mortality hazards for grandparents who provided non-custodial childcare were 37% lower than for grandparents who did not provide childcare and for non- grandparents”. Another study concludes that grandmothering may even be an “evolutionary mechanism that has contributed to the increase in human life expectancy”.
More research by the Women’s Health Aging Project in Australia discovered that grandmothers who looked after their grandkids at least once a week had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders—though it does come with a caveat. Those who spent too much time with their grandchildren suffered adverse effects on their mental health, with the recommended cut-off being four days per week.
Even hugging reaps rewards thanks to the increased levels of ‘love hormone’, oxytocin, that it brings. Dr Kristine Arthur tells Readers Digest that exposure to greater human touch leads to a decrease in inflammatory cells and an increase in white blood cells, the fighter cells”. This boosts the immune system and reduces stress. “A kiss of holding hands gives a sense of calmness, peacefulness, and security if you’re under stress,” adds Walter Nieri, a geriatrician. “Relieving stress delays the shortening of telomeres [an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age] associated with ageing.”
So, get babysitting those grandkids if you want to hang around longer, like Elizabeth Goudge once noted: “The very old and the very young have something in common that makes it right that they should be left alone together.” Just don’t overdo it.