How having a sibling can improve your health

Susannah Hickling 26 April 2022

What’s the betting you fought like cat and dog when you were younger? But brothers and sisters can actually boost your physical and mental health. Here’s how

Having a younger sibling might make you slimmer. A University of Michigan study found that children who were six or under when a new brother or sister arrived had a healthier BMI. Given that childhood weight issues can turn into adult weight problems, having a younger bro or sis might well be worth the aggro.

Sisters can protect you from depression. Sisters, whether younger or older, help prevent their adolescent siblings from feeling guilty, unloved, lonely, self-conscious and fearful, according to a study from Brigham Young University in the US. That can only be a bonus when you reach adulthood.

Having brothers and sisters makes you more charitable. The same research, which looked at 395 families, found that having siblings made you twice as likely to do good deeds. Could it be that having a same-generation relative looking out for you prompts you to think about others?

…and more empathic. A study of more than 450 Canadian families found that if a sibling was warm and kind, the other sibling was likely to display the same qualities.

Brothers and sisters improve your chances of a happy marriage. Research from Ohio State University found that the more siblings you had, the lower your chance of getting divorced. In fact, for each additional one, your risk of marital breakdown was three per cent less. Researchers speculated that having other kids in your family made you better at negotiating the tricky situations that occur in close relationships.

They’re a morale booster in later life. Research has found that having a meaningful relationship with brothers and sisters when you’re older can lead to greater life satisfaction, greater psychological wellbeing, higher morale and fewer depressive symptoms. That bond is vital as you enter old age.

Siblings can help you have a healthier lifestyle. A multinational survey of more than 15,000 people found that 43 per cent of people credited their family and friends for having the biggest impact on their health. Brothers and sisters are readily available fitness and healthy-eating buddies.

They help you live longer. In a study from the American Sociological Association, older adults who described themselves as being “extremely close” to the family members they listed as their closest confidants had a six per cent chance of dying over the next five years, compared to a 14 per cent risk for the people who reported not being very close to the family members listed. 

Having good friends can bring many of the same benefits. We don’t all have brothers and sisters, or you might be estranged from yours. Don’t panic; research also shows that having close friends can boost your health, wellbeing and longevity. Make friends by signing up to groups or classes and finding people who enjoy the same things as you.

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