Good news for parents: having kids may equate to a longer life

Some of you, especially baby-boomer parents, might be highly skeptical of this advice as you watch your 26-year-old son returning home years after he said he was leaving for good and you’d gleefully rented out his room.

But as you’re picking up his discarded clothes and empty pizza cartons, you should know that the sloth who is sleeping late as usual may actually be the reason you’ve lived long enough to be performing maid service yet again.

At least that’s the conclusion of a Danish study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that followed more than 21,000 couples who had enrolled in an IVF clinic in the 1990s.

As you’d expect, many of those people went on to have kids of their own. Of those who didn’t succeed in reproducing, some adopted children, while others simply remained childless.

The researchers followed the couples for 12 to 15 years and found that not having any child at all quadrupled a woman’s chances of dying compared to a woman who had a biological child. And men who remained childless had double the risk of dying during this study compared to men who fathered kids.

Interestingly, even men who adopted children also somewhat reduced their risk of dying, although the same survival benefit did not accrue to women who adopted.

Now, there are several important caveats to this study (for example, the overall number of deaths was quite low because these were still rather young people, so chance may play a role in some of these findings), but overall, the researchers are confident the results are valid. So, if having kids does extend parents’ lives, the big question is why?

Why Do Kids Increase Longevity?

The researchers speculate it’s because when you have kids, you live a healthier life, and I agree that this may play a role.

For example, it’s likely that parents eat healthier in order to set a good example for their kids, and it’s certainly true that parents generally go to bed much earlier than non-parents, not only because parents are exhausted by dinner’s end, but also because they have to get up early to get their kids off to school.

But I think there’s actually a much simpler explanation. If you’re lucky enough to get to that point in life, you really, really want to stick around for as long as you can for the joy of spending as much time as you can with your incredible grandchildren, who finally make you realize why you had any kids in the first place.

Dr. Art Hister is a medical writer and health analyst for Global TV.

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