Having children can be stressful, but it is also good for your health. A new Brigham Young University study came to the conclusion that being a parent is associated with lower blood pressure, particularly so among women.
"Women with children had the lowest blood pressure, and women without had the highest," said a study's co-author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, of those studied.
The study involved nearly 200 adults with the ages between 20 and 68 years, all of whom were married, and 70 per cent of them had kids. 80.6 per cent of the participants were white with an average of 16 years of education. For the purposes of an experiment, all the adults were asked to wear portable blood pressure monitors that took readings at random intervals three times per hour during a 24-hour period, including their sleep time.
A statistical analysis allowed the investigators to account for other factors that are associated with blood pressure - factors such as age, body mass index, gender, physical activity, employment and smoking - and zero in on the effect of parenthood. The results revealed that for parents overall, the 24-hour blood pressure readings averaged 116 / 71. All other factors being equal, parents scored 4.5 points lower when compared to adults without children in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and 3 points lower than non-parents in diastolic blood pressure.
Holt-Lunstad says the size of the difference is statistically significant, but she warns against hastily making major life changes based on this finding alone. "This doesn't mean the more kids you have, the better your blood pressure," Holt-Lunstad said. "The findings are simply tied to parenthood, no matter the number of children or employment status." The effect was more pronounced among women, with motherhood corresponding to a 12-point difference in systolic blood pressure and a 7-point difference in diastolic blood pressure.
According to Holt-Lunstad, the size of this difference is statistically significant, however she cautioned against making major changes in life based just on this finding. "This doesn't mean the more kids you have, the better your blood pressure. The findings are simply tied to parenthood, no matter the number of children or employment status," she explained.
So the question is why do parents register lower blood pressure numbers when compared to their nonparent counterparts? The experts say that biology may play a role, noting that the finds are consistent with some animal research that demonstrates a "pregnancy protection" in the hormones generated during lactation that are shown to be linked to better stress regulation in animals. Psychology is another factor that could play a role, because individuals under stress that are able to find meaning in it cope with it better. Parenting is a very meaningful activity, and that may help explain the less detrimental effect of stress that comes from parenting, researchers said.
The new study also shows that adults with kids have larger social networks because they are involved with others in their children's activities, and large social networks are associated with better health. Healthy diet may also play a role, according to researchers, meaning that if parents are encouraging their children to eat healthy, they are probably eating healthy as well.
A study was published on January 14 in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Tags: Parenting and Families
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