Childhood memories of good connections with your parents can benefit your physical and mental health, according to new research.
The study found that older adults with fond recollections of early relationships with their parents were more likely to have better health, fewer chronic illnesses and a lower risk of depression.
Researchers analyzed two databases that included more than 22,000 people in the United States. They were either followed from their mid-40s for 18 years or for six years after age 50.
Those who recalled higher levels of affection from their mothers in early childhood had better physical health and fewer symptoms of depression, according to the study. It was published Nov. 5 in the journal Health Psychology.
Participants who recalled more childhood support from their fathers had fewer symptoms of depression, the study also found.
“One might expect childhood memories to matter less and less over time, but these memories still predicted better physical and mental health when people were in middle age and older adulthood,” study lead author William Chopik said in a journal news release. Chopik is an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
The study only found an association, and didn’t prove cause and effect. But the link between good childhood memories and better health later in life was stronger among those who recalled a good relationship with their mother, as opposed to their father.
This “may reflect the broader cultural circumstances of the time when the participants were raised because mothers were most likely the primary caregivers,” said study co-author Robin Edelstein. She directs the University of Michigan’s Personality, Relationships and Hormones Lab.
“With shifting cultural norms about the role of fathers in caregiving, it is possible that results from future studies of people born in more recent years will focus more on relationships with their fathers,” Edelstein said.
Chopik said memory plays a huge role in how people make sense of the world and gauge how they should behave. “As a result, there are a lot of different ways that our memories of the past can guide us,” he said.
Good memories seem to have a positive effect on health and well-being, possibly because they reduce stress or help people maintain healthy choices, he said.
Previous research found a link between good memories and good health in young adults, Chopik said.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on positive parenting.
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