With National Grandparents Day coming up on September 9th, we want to take the opportunity to talk about how grandparents can optimize their health and finances to enjoy spending time with family — and especially those grandkids — for years to come.
“Everything is an opportunity to teach, to show, and to love. To be able to do it, the grandparents have to be present and healthy,” said Dr. Bill Lloyd, M.D., health director for Transamerica. Otherwise, grandparents will miss out on helping their grandchildren grow up, he said.
“Grandparents must tend to their own health while also engaging grandchildren in activities that involve exercise and healthy eating,” said Dr. Susan Kelley, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of Project Healthy Grandparents at Georgia State University.
“Grandparents, whether raising grandchildren or not, serve as key role models for their grandchildren,” she said.
Prepare for a long life ahead
Life expectancy has increased, and the grandparent age group is growing. Nearly 50 million people in the U.S. today are age 65 and older, and that’s expected to reach 86 million by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It’s a fact. It’s going to happen,” Dr. Lloyd said. “This is a very large, very new chapter in life, lasting maybe 25 or 30 years. Are you prepared?”
To prepare for that chapter, grandparents need to recognize health and wealth are inextricably linked. Good physical health is necessary to enjoy your financial assets, Dr. Lloyd said, and being in good fiscal health allows you to participate in your favorite activities.
Consider opening a health savings account if it’s right for your situation, and look into other savings or investment products in your 50s and 60s to help ease stress and worry.
Model healthy behavior for grandchildren by staying physically active, not smoking, and eating a balanced diet. Think of everyday outings that might teach youngsters about health and savings.
Consider using coupons at the grocery store and teaching grandchildren how to make healthy choices. At the bank, discuss savings, open an account with a grandchild, or perhaps give a young grandchild a piggy bank and a roll of quarters. Help teenage grandchildren set and achieve a financial goal, whether it’s buying a car or taking a special trip.
“We’re taught that parents are our first teachers. So that means grandparents are our super teachers,” said Dr. Lloyd, who is in his 60s and a grandparent himself.
Plan a variety of activities with grandchildren
Time with grandchildren can take many forms, and doing something physical sets a good example. Depending on a child’s age and the physical abilities of the grandparent, head outdoors to walk, run, hike, swim, or bike.
Public parks are a nice setting for enjoying nature and fresh air and for many types of physical activities, including exercise classes, Dr. Kelley noted.
Reading together can be relaxing and even a learning activity. And it can be done over the phone or via video chat if a grandparent and grandchild are in different cities.
Consider volunteering together. Pick up litter in a public place, help care for pets at an animal shelter, or distribute food to those in need, including homebound seniors. The organization Generations United provides a Take Action Guide with ideas for activities for Grandparents Day or any day.
Dr. Lloyd recently took his visiting grandson with him to donate items to his church’s efforts to help the homeless, demonstrating the importance of volunteerism.
Encourage healthy eating
Grandparents also can set good examples when it comes to nutrition.
“Teaching children to grow healthy foods is another great way for grandchildren to interact with grandparents,” said Kelley, chief academic officer and associate dean for nursing at Georgia State’s Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions.
While gardening usually involves access to outdoor space, herbs and some small vegetables can be grown in patio pots or indoors. Taking cooking classes together to learn about healthy eating choices is another fun option, Dr. Kelley added.
Eating home-cooked meals establishes a foundation for selecting healthy foods and cutting down on snacking – and it saves money compared with eating out. Getting youngsters involved in planning and cooking meals can also encourage healthier eating habits and carve out quality family time.
If there’s a farmer’s market nearby, take grandchildren there to select fresh produce.
Grandparents can share favorite family recipes, and, if necessary, modify them to be heart healthy.
Health reminders for grandparents
Regular physical exams aren’t just for little ones. They’re important for grandparents, too. They can be particularly important if you’re a “custodial grandparent” serving as a child’s primary caregiver.
About 10% of children live with a grandparent, and some 2.7 million grandparents had primary responsibility for grandchildren under age 18 according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Raising grandchildren can take a toll on grandparent’s health. It’s important to try to maintain everyone’s health and wellbeing through regular exercise and healthy eating.
Heart health is of concern for grandparents because it’s closely connected to overall health. Grandparents should follow a heart-healthy diet and get regular checkups to monitor their blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and blood glucose, Dr. Kelley said.
Grandparents spending time with grandchildren should check their vaccinations to ensure they don’t pass on diseases to the kids. For example, protect yourself and your family against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough with the Tdap vaccine.
Even if you were vaccinated when you were younger, your protection against whooping cough can wear off, and the illness can be particularly dangerous for infants under 6 months.
Other important vaccines for older adults are shingles, MMR, flu, and pneumonia.
“Remember spending time with grandchildren can also benefit a grandparent’s health because of increased physical activity and social interaction. It also can be emotionally fulfilling, especially if it’s not a full-time parenting role,” Dr. Kelley said.
For every grandparent, it’s essential to remain healthy so you’ll be to enjoy seeing your grandchildren grow up.
Things to Consider:
- Encourage grandchildren to be physically active and to select, cook, and eat nutritious foods.
- Explore a variety of rewarding activities to engage in with grandchildren, including reading together or volunteering.
- Set examples for good health and savings by modeling with your own behavior.
- Pay attention to your own health as a grandparent. This is especially important if you are the primary caregiver.
This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.