TIME Family

Why Your Sibling Is Good for Your Health

sisters
Reggie Casagrande—Getty Images

When they're not stealing your clothes or hogging your parents' attention, having a brother or sister can actually make you happier and healthier

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

Sometimes we get along. Other times they drive us bonkers, but overall (most of the time) we love our brothers and sisters. And research shows that the sibling bond is about more than family dinners and spontaneous wrestling matches over the remote. Growing up with a brother or sister may actually have an impact on our mental and physical health, not to mention it can shape who we become later in life. Here, the many benefits of siblings.

Having a sibling may make you more selfless.

New research suggests that having a sibling may help children develop sympathy. Researchers examined the relationship between siblings in more than 300 families and found having a quality relationship with a brother or sister may promote altruism in teens, especially boys.

“In our study, most relationships were not as important for boys as they were for girls,” study co-author Laura Padilla-Walker said in a university release. “But the sibling relationship was different—they seemed to report relying on sibling affection just as much as girls do. It’s an area where parents and therapists could really help boys.”

(MORE: 30 Secrets Your Body Language Gives Away)

They may improve our mental health.

Some of the same researchers at Brigham Young University found that sisters, specifically, seem to give siblings a mental health boost in ways that parents don’t. Results of a statistical analysis of nearly 400 families showed that, regardless of age-distance, having a sister protected adolescents against feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious, and fearful. Even fights help by forming important tools, like how to better control emotion, according to Padilla-Walker.

(MORE: 7 Tips to Keep You Calm)

They make us happier.

For many, that sibling bond means a lifetime of emotional support, a close friendship, and an endless number of inside jokes. That’s why it should come as no surprise that holding onto a tight relationship with your brother or sister can lead to happiness later in life. Research shows that older people with living siblings have a higher sense of morale, so bonding with our brothers and sisters isn’t only important as we grow and mature, but may also bring major benefits later in life.

(MORE: Busting 10 Diet Myths)

Siblings keep us physically fit.

Although it may be fun to grab second helpings of dessert with your brother or sister, research shows that our siblings (and family and friends in general) can help us stay active. When it comes to fit-inspiration, 43 percent believe that friends and family have the largest impact on how healthy our lifestyles are. And staying fit together may help grow that sibling bond. Nearly one third of people with healthy habits distance themselves from those with less healthy ones.

(MORE: 5 Types of Friends Everyone Should Have)

They could help you live longer.

Not only can siblings boost mental health and physical fitness, but strong social ties may help you live longer, according to research published in the journal PLoS Medicine. On average, those with poor social connections died about 7.5 years earlier than those with solid bonds to friends and family. That’s about the same difference in length of life as the gap between smokers and non-smokers. This may be because caring about our friends and family inspires us to take better care of ourselves or it may be because we turn to loved ones to provide us with support when we’re sick or stressed, Time reports. No matter the reason, keeping that strong connection with our siblings could help us live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

(MORE: One Sneaky Trick to Boost Your Mood)

TIME Developmental Disorders

Michigan Teen Carries Brother 40 Miles for Cerebral Palsy Awareness

Brotherly Walk
Braden Gandee, 7, rides on the back of his brother Hunter, 14, as they close in on the final miles to the University of Michigan's Bahna Wrestling Center on Sunday, June 8, 2014. Hunter carried Braden, who has cerebral palsy, 40 miles from Temperance, Mich., to Ann Arbor. Chris Asadian—AP Photo

Valiant 14-year-old Hunter Gandee carried his 7-year-old brother Braden strapped on his back for 30 hours to urge engineers to invest in innovative tools for increased mobility

A Michigan teen trekked 40 miles with his 7-year-old brother on his back to raise awareness of cerebral palsy, the cerebellar degenerative disorder that prevents his sibling from walking himself.

Hunter Gandee, 14, braved blustery conditions during the two-day hike from his hometown of Temperance, Mich., to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His brother Braden has struggled with cerebral palsy his entire life. Hunter told ABC that although he wrestles in 100-degree conditions at Bedford Junior High, “it’s nowhere near how hard Braden works.”

The teenager originally concocted the idea after raising $350 in green wristbands for cerebral palsy awareness month at his school. Afterward he wanted his efforts to reach beyond his classmates. “We want kids to understand Braden,” Hunter told MLive.

He was further inspired by a dream that his mother had of him carrying Braden to Mackinac, Mich., where the family had often vacationed. This led to two months of preparation for carrying his 50-lb. brother on his back.

The courageous duo were joined by other family members for the final portion of the journey, which nearly ended early because Braden’s legs were badly chafing. But after a brief rest-stop and repositioning Braden, the brothers completed the mission in 30 hours.

“We pushed through it,” an exhausted Hunter told ABC. “And we’re here.”

On the walk’s Facebook page, the Gandees express hope that the walk will earn the attention of engineers and doctors for “the need for innovative ideas in mobility aids and medical procedures.”

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