Kids Help Parents Live Longer -- Even If It Feels Like They're Killing Us

stressed mom
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I'm what most people would refer to as a "young mom." I had my first baby at age 24 and my second a few years later at 27. Despite my being healthy and supposedly young enough to just "bounce back" from the strain of pregnancy and those vicious newborn days, having kids has aged me in ways I never imagined. My hair is turning prematurely gray, my body creaks and pops like an old staircase whenever I stand up from sitting, and most days I can barely keep my eyes open past 9 p.m. In short, parenthood kind of feels like it's killing me, which is why I'm tempted to call bullsh-t on a new study that shows parents actually live longer than people who don't have kids.

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Swedish researchers recently completed a massive study of more than 705,000 men and 725,000 women born in Sweden between 1911 and 1925. The researchers compared data about each person's life expectancy with their age, marital status, and parenthood status to see whether or not children played a role in longevity. Spoiler alert: They do ... and not in the way you'd expect.

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At age 60, fathers in the study could be expected to live about two years longer than non-fathers, while mothers could expect to live about 1.5 years longer than non-mothers. The trend continued even into people's 80s, where dads could expect to live about eight months longer than non-fathers and moms could expect to live about seven months longer than women without children.

"The difference in death risk between parents and non-parents increases with age between age 60 and 100," Karin Modig, lead study author and assistant professor of epidemiology with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told CBS News. "These differences persist into, and even grow larger in, old age."

As someone in the trenches of toddlerhood and elementary-age parenting, I can't help but wonder, how is that even possible?

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There's nothing about being a parent that seems to promote habits we're told will lead to a long and healthy life. If you think about the advice we get on avoiding death and disease, it's always things like get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, don't skip your annual checkups, and keep your stress levels low.

You don't see many doctors advising people to sleep less than three hours per night, eat a steady diet of leftover chicken nuggets from a 3-year-old's plate, eek out the occasional four push-ups with a 6-year-old climbing on your back, and experience increasing levels of stress for 18+ years. I'm no scientist, but based on the experiences of most parents I know, I would say there's a 100 percent chance that parenthood is more likely to turn you into a high-functioning zombie than it is to extend your life.

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Sadly, my zombie theory has no basis in fact, but researchers did offer a possible explanation as to why parents might have a leg up when it comes to life expectancy. For one, they say people with kids may engage in less risky behaviors. But, most likely, parents live longer because they have their grown children around to take care of them.

"Children probably provide important support to their aging parents," Modig explained to CBS. "Aging individuals without children or other close kin maybe need to get extra support elsewhere."

So, there you have it. It may occasionally (or not so occasionally) feel like your kids are draining the life out of you, but the hard parts don't last forever. They grow up, step up, stand by us throughout our old age, and might actually help us live to a see a few hundred extra days. When you think about it that way, it kind of makes even the hardest parts seem worth it.

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