Leave a Legacy of Good Health for Your Grandkids

Little boy showing off to his grandmother and sister

Among the members of the animal kingdom, our species is one of the few where individuals survive long beyond their reproductive years. Despite the stereotype that older adults are a “burden,” anthropologists assure us that their presence was one of the big reasons the human species has been so successful! They say that for our Stone Age ancestors, the presence of supportive older relatives, equipped with years of wisdom, gave children a survival advantage. And just last month, anthropologists at Duke University released a study on the “poorly sleeping grandparent hypothesis,” which suggests that our sleep habits change with age because our ancient elders would wake up in the night to tend a crying child or investigate sounds that might warn of an approaching animal.

Things really haven’t changed that much. Today the wisdom of grandparents and great-grandparents is more valuable than ever. They help grandchildren learn and grow and thrive in many ways—and providing a role model for healthy living is at the top of the list!

We know that good health tends to run in families. That is partly due to genes—but only partly. Studies show adopted children, too, can share certain health conditions, such as obesity and high blood pressure, with adoptive parents from whom they’ve “inherited” bad health habits.

September 10 is Grandparents Day—a great time for grandparents to think about serving as healthy role models. Let the grandkids see you engaging in these healthy pursuits:

Exercise—It’s not your imagination that kids get less exercise these days! Encourage grandchildren to put down their tablet computers and video games and go to the playground or walk the dog with you. If your health permits, plan a hike or camping trip. Were you planning to take your granddaughter shopping for school clothes? Walk around the mall rather than ordering online.

Nutrition—Busy parents may not have time to prepare meals from scratch—but at Grandma’s home, cooking is a different matter. Take grandkids along to the grocery store or farmers market to select fresh ingredients for a nutritious repast. Teach them to read food labels, and let them help you prepare the meal. Do you garden? If grandkids help tend and harvest those growing veggies, they’ll be far more likely to eat them!

Giving your brain a workout—Studies confirm that a lifetime of mental stimulation builds cognitive reserve that can delay the symptoms of dementia later on. Music and languages are especially protective; offer to pay for your grandchild’s music lessons, and learn a new language with them. Take them to museums and performances. It’s never too early to develop a rich life of the mind—and never too late to reap the benefits.

Not smoking—You probably know that secondhand smoke is harmful for children, so maybe you don’t light up when they’re around—but did you know that thirdhand smoke, which is the harmful residue that builds up on carpets and furniture where people smoke, is also dangerous for children? While fewer young people today are taking up the habit, having a family member who smokes raises their risk. This is one legacy you don’t want to leave to the grandkids!

Good health habits—Let the grandkids see you washing your hands before cooking and after using the bathroom. Always wear your seatbelt in the car. If the little ones are sleeping over, establish a nighttime tooth brushing ritual as a lead-in to bedtime stories. And kids need vaccines to protect against a number of dangerous diseases. Of course, no child eagerly looks forward to getting a shot, but knowing that Grandpa gets his can help them put on a brave face.

By now you’ve probably noticed that this article has a hidden agenda: Performing these healthy rituals supports your own good health as well. It’s a win-win that might give you more years to spend with those precious grandchildren and great-grandchildren … and will make it more likely that they, too, will model good health for the generations to come.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2017.