Being a parent has many benefits, but could it actually prolong your life? Perhaps. According to researchers who spent 10 years studying more than 130,000 retired men age 50 and over, the number of cardiovascular-related deaths was 17 percent higher among the childless than among dads. Here's what you should know:
What were these researchers studying?
Dr. Michael Eisenberg and his team at Stanford University set out to shed more light on the known connection between male infertility and health problems like testicular cancer, according to Britain's Daily Mail. So in 1996, Eisenberg began following 135,000 men over the age of 50 who were married or formerly married; some had children, others didn't. He then tracked their death rates over the course of 10 years.
What did they discover?
"Childless men were more likely to die during the follow-up period than fathers," says Alice Park at TIME. But the most surprising finding? "Most of the deaths were heart related." That was a shocker to researchers, who thought they'd find higher rates of cancer deaths.
Why would childless men be more susceptible to heart disease?
Researchers don't know how many of the men were childless by choice or because they were infertile, but infertility can be linked to heart disease. "Infertile men tend to have abnormal testicular function," says Park, and the testes produce testosterone. "Abnormal testosterone levels may cause HDL, or 'good' cholesterol, to drop." Perhaps, Eisenberg posits, "this impaired testicular function, which is [showing up] as infertility early in life, sets the stage for a higher risk of cardiovascular events later in life."
Is everyone sold on this theory?
No. "I lean toward another theory, myself," writes Bruce Goldman at Scope. "Having kids is just plain good for you." Perhaps "the cumulative blessings accruing from taking care of kids [outweighs] the acute brain damage arising from those early sleepless nights," and makes dads healthier in the long run.
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