[Blue Zones Series] The Power of Family Structure

Uncategorized Mar 24, 2021

This week I am continuing our 9 week Blue Zones Series. For 9 weeks we are covering the 9 different patterns that help centenarians live and thrive longer.

If you missed last week's blog on the Power Of Support, go check it out!

>>Read It Here<<

This week we are covering The Power Of Family Structure.

Now I know this one may be a difficult one to swallow and you may think it's unfair. I am just stating the research and sometimes the research isn't what we want to hear. But remember this is just one of the factors.

In North America, it's very common to put ageing parents into Nursing Homes, in fact in America alone about 54% of American's will spend time in a nursing home. 

In most of the Blue Zones, this is not the case. The common practice is to have multigenerational homes.

Centenarians have been through a lot over their years. Wars, depressions/recessions, pandemics, and a lot of change. From this, they have built up incredible resilience. This type of wisdom has the power to help the younger generations in their household.

This is extremely common in Sardinia. Ageing parents do not go into homes. Research has discovered something called the "Grandmother Effect." Research on this has shown that in households where a grandparent lives and helps with childcare, household care, and keeping dietary traditions alive, children actually have less disease and have a better outcome in life (according to research done by Blue Zones leading expert Dan Buettner).

But this doesn't just help the children. Living with family contributes to the longevity of the ageing parent. Grandchildren and a strong loving connection to family can provide a person with the motivation and desire to keep living. Believe it or not, the desire to live is a strong contributor. Not having anything to live for can take a toll on your health.

Here are 5 health benefits to having a strong family structure:

1. A motivation or desire to live longer

Your mind is a powerful tool. Being around loving family, spending time doing things you love with your younger generations can you leave you in good spirits and help you stay more positive. This leads to a desire to live.

If you are alone, in a nursing home (which may not be the most friendly environment) you are less likely to want to keep living or to think positively.

A recent study found that those who thought positively or were an "optimist" actually had an 11-15% longer lifespan than those who did not. "The results held true, the study found, even when socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, smoking, social engagement, poor diet and alcohol use were considered."

2. Keep you feeling young

Have you ever heard the phrase "age is just a state of mind"? Well, when you're playing with children it can definitely feel that way. When I worked with children quite a few years ago and they'd hand me a toy for us to play with, at first it felt weird and disjointed like I had to remember how to play but then I'd get into it and we could play for hours.

With children, it doesn't really matter how old you are as long as you're willing to play with them. It can create nostalgia and keep you feeling young. Once again, your state of mind is a huge contributor to longevity. If your mind stays young so will you!

3. Can potentially help keep your memory intact

Speaking of our memories staying young having supportive and trusting relationships with family members can actually help boost your memory as you age. The key is to have a relationship where there is a level of trust.

A study done by the Harvard School Of Public Health demonstrated that people with the most active social lives, especially with direct family members, had the slowest rate of memory decline.

The key here though is the interactions with family need to be meaningful and positive. If the family interaction is negative it can have the opposite effect on one's health.


4. Provides you with a feeling of security for the future

Probably one of the biggest impacts family has and the biggest difference to a relationship with friends is this feeling of security for the future. A study published in the National Library of Medicine stated "Feeling that you have someone who would care for you if sick appears to increase the sense of security about surviving future health crises, thereby increasing one's perceived inventory of the essential property--life itself.

Living in a nursing home, away from family, can make someone feel alone, even though there are many other residents in the home. The connection to them is different than family. Friends or acquaintances will often think of their own health first, whereas, family have a stronger need to protect the overall family unit (including live-in elderly parents). This can leave people feeling more secure about fighting off illness and disease. This increases one's resilience.

5. Can reduce stress and provide better coping mechanisms

Probably one of the most powerful benefits of strong family relationships is it can lower regular stress and people tend to choose healthier coping mechanisms. What's great about this benefit is it is not just a benefit for ageing people it can actually provide everyone in the household with decreased stress.

The adult children have help within the household and with childcare, which can put less pressure on the parents and potentially increase the household income. As well, the children grow up in a household with low stress and have the added benefit of seeing healthy stress coping mechanisms. For the ageing parents, they are more likely to seek out healthy coping mechanisms because they feel secure and want to set a good example for the grandchildren. Lower stress has been shown to decrease one's overall fatigue, blood pressure, and heart health.


I know this topic is similar to last week's topic on the benefits of a friends support network. But many studies have shown there are great differences between our relationship with friends and with family.

We treat the relationships differently and what we get out of them is also different. Both types of relationships are necessary to live a long and healthy life so we shouldn't discredit either type of relationship.

Remember, family, tends to have a stronger pull to preserve the family unit. Friends always have your back and will help however they can but family has a stronger feeling of "obligation" and a different kind of love.

What do you think? Do you think family ties are an important contributor to overall longevity? Let me know your thoughts by emailing [email protected]

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