The surprising health benefits of age gap friendships

When we think of friendships, often the first thing that comes to mind is that the relationships we have with people closest to our own age. Many people view friendships with people much older or much younger than us as unusual. However, there are many reasons to seek out these unique friendships.

As a mother of two children, ages eight and six, it is important to me that they are surrounded by friends of all ages, especially older adults. There are proven benefits for both old and young when it comes to friendships and, the truth of the matter is, young kids and older people tend to be drawn to each other. They quickly develop the sense that they "get" each other, and the simplicity of their friendship is nothing short of magical.

Age gap friendships, as they are often called, have many benefits for both old and young, which extend far beyond enjoying time together. Not only does it teach younger children about the benefits of friendships with people outside of their peer group, it also expands and supports mental wellbeing of the seniors that are involved. There are several other benefits to these amazing friendships such as:

1. It might help you live longer.

Companionship in old age is a strong predictor of lifespan. Study after study shows that having a group of friends is linked to living a longer and healthier life. It's also associated with a happier life in old age. Friendships with older and younger people help broaden one's perspective, which in turn, allows compassion and empathy in day-to-day life.

2. It can boost emotional and social intelligence

Older adults feel a great sense of responsibility, belonging, and need when sharing time with a younger friend. At the same time, children develop greater communication and social skills and develop more positive self-esteem.

3. Strengthened immune system

Social interaction and physical activities reduce stress hormones and build the body's natural defences, to help fight off illness and disease.

4. Renewed sense of purpose in life

Older adults feel less isolated and that they are needed by people other than their family. Many older people who may feel disconnected from society and or have lost hope about their lives can have their spirit rekindled by youthful relationships.

After reading through the studies detailing the benefits of these friendships, I was reminded of my own children and their relationship with our 69-year-old neighbour and best friend, Sue. It's a relationship which has taught my children that the world is about more than just them.

While I feel so blessed by the impact neighbour Sue has on my children's life, I know it has equally impacted her as well. She refers to them as her "grand-neighbours" and tells everyone about my son and daughter like they are her own. There is an excitement in her eyes when she is greeted by them and she feels a sense of purpose when they come to her. The real value of this "non-traditional" friendship can be summed up in one sentence: she feels needed and they feel loved.

Sara Lindburg has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counselling. A 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counsellor, she combines 20-plus years' experience in the fitness and counselling fields and she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves on her Facebook page, FitMom. Her inspiration for writing comes from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna. Follow Sara on twitter.


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