As adults it can be harder to make time to see your parents on a regular basis, between work, kids, household responsibilities, and everything in between. But squeezing in those one or two extra visits may be worth the additional effort. Time with your parents has a larger impact on their overall health than we could have imagined. According to new research, spending time with your parents can increase their general well being as well as their life expectancy. A study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine in 2012 looked at 1,600 adults, with the average age being 71. 23 percent of the participants who reported that they were lonely died within six years of the study, compared to only 14 percent of those who were not lonely. This difference of 9 percent was consistent even after researchers used controls for health and socioeconomic status. The study also linked loneliness as a factor in other areas of health, including depression, cognitive impairment, and other health problems such as coronary heart disease.
A second study published in 2010 to the PLoS Medicine journal discovered that social ties are important in extending life expectancy. The benefits of social interaction are compared to the benefits of losing weight if you are obese, or becoming more active if you live a sedentary lifestyle. Study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate psychology professor at Brigham Young University, said, “Our social relationships are important not only to our quality of life, but also our longevity. Throughout human history, we have relied on others for survival such as protection and food, and despite modern advancements that may [help with] certain aspects of survival so that we can live more independently, it appears that our relationships nonetheless still impact odds of survival.” Research is showing that social isolation is a larger health risk than smoking or obesity, and that spending time with family and friends often creates more laughter. Laughter is considered to be medicine in itself, and is shown through research to boost the immune system. Laughing also lowers blood pressure, and stimulates blood flow and mental activity.
Parents aren’t the only ones who benefit from spending time together. For their children, knowledge and wisdom passed down through generations can be invaluable, and parents have a unique understanding of their children. Grandparents who are socially involved with their families can play a major supporting role in childcare, and studies have shown that grandparents who take on babysitting roles are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. There are many ways to spend time with family members that can create new memories for everyone. Asking about your family history and creating a family tree can create a map to your ancestry. Other ideas could be taking family photos, traveling to a bucket list location together, volunteering or making family recipes are all ways to spend time together and enjoy your time together to the fullest. Spending time with your elderly family members benefits them greatly, but it also benefits everyone.