Care for others, and show them emotional support, to live longer! New findings suggesting this effect are published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.
The secret to living longer—if there is any, that is—has kept mankind on its toes. Perhaps, the key would be in focusing on one’s behaviour and attitude, instead of just on what nourishes the body. Caring for others might lengthen one’s lifespan, says an international team of researchers (from University of Basel, Edith Cowan University, the University of Western Australia, the Humboldt University of Berlin, and Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development).
Doing good to others is doing good to your own self. Many people actually live by this—and, they might be boosting their own mortality, specially if they are “older people”. The new findings show that the elderly who help and provide support to others (in this case, their children or grandchildren) live longer. Such was the conclusion after the researchers evaluated survival analysis of people falling within the age group 70 to 103 years. The grandparents whose data were examined would either occasionally look after their grandchildren, as opposed to those who were professional caregivers, or would provide care for other individuals in their social circle, such as their own children.
This type of care-giving was, thus, demonstrated to have a positive influence on mortality: 50% of the grandparents were still alive a decade after the first collection of data, and the same trend was found for those older people who cared for their children. As for those who did not provide help to others, they died within 5 years.
Furthermore, it was found that older people with no grandchildren or children, but who supported others emotionally, also benefited similarly: helpers would live on for another 7 years, while non-helpers would only live for another 4 years.
On the other hand, the researchers do caution against thinking that helping others is the ultimate solution to living longer.
“But helping shouldn’t be misunderstood as a panacea for a longer life,” says one of the authors, Ralph Hertwig. “A moderate level of caregiving involvement does seem to have positive effects on health. But previous studies have shown that more intense involvement causes stress, which has negative effects on physical and mental health.”
Now, how does caring for one’s children’s children affect one’s mortality? The team suggests that this might have a neural and/or hormonal aspect.
“It seems plausible that the development of parents’ and grandparents’ prosocial behaviour toward their kin left its imprint on the human body in terms of a neural and hormonal system that subsequently laid the foundation for the evolution of cooperation and altruistic behaviour towards non-kin,” says first author Sonja Hilbrand.
Well, doing good to others—caring for them—does have long-term benefits, right?!