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
Chris Asadian—AP Photo 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.

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.”

TIME Out There

Two Photographers’ Mission to Retrace a Lost Liberia

When Canadian brothers Jeff and Andrew Topham returned to the war torn West African country of their childhood to re-shoot their father’s photos for a documentary, they found a nation whose photographic memory had been destroyed by war.

Jeff and Andrew Topham were five and three, respectively, when their father’s job moved them from the Yukon, Canada to just outside of Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, in 1976, four years before a military coup and two subsequent civil wars would devastate the West African nation. The boys lived in what they remember as paradise: endless beaches, thick jungles and countless adventures with their pet chimp named Evelyn. Their father, John, documented this time with thousands of photographs, inspiring a love for photography and filmmaking in both brothers.

In May 2010, the Tophams—now photographers themselves—returned to Monrovia to see what had become of their childhood home. “Our original idea was to revisit and re-shoot the influential and iconic photos of our childhood,” says Jeff Topham. What began as a personal exploration of their youth turned into a documentary film project titled Liberia 77 after the Tophams realized that many of the citizens they encountered did not own any photographs. “I was really interested in the connection between photography and memory,” Topham says. “How much my dad’s photographs influence my memory and what was actually real.”

Although they had seen images of the trouble Liberia had experienced in the last 20 years, the Tophams’ understanding changed after hearing stories of the fighting from citizens who had known their family. “You can read about those stories, but when you are actually sitting with someone and they are telling you first hand, it seems to hit a lot harder,” Topham says. “I think the emotional impact was definitely bigger than the physical.”

The most staggering realization, which became the central focus of Liberia 77, was the absence of pictures. “The fact that nobody we encountered had any photographs, to me, was remarkable,” Topham says. During the civil wars, the possession of photographs—even on job identification cards—meant a person had money, a fact that could cause one to lose his or her life. Many people would get rid of them just to survive. “People hadn’t seen photos of Liberia from before the wars,” Topham says. “We had this stack of photographs from my dad that we were using as reference, and they almost became this stack of historical documents.”

During one part of Liberia 77, Liberian photojournalist Sando Moore asks, “If you don’t know where you came from, how can you know where you are going?” That poignant questions speaks to the heart of the Tophams’ film: to give Liberian citizens a connection to their past in order to grow and reconstruct their future. “The fact that the country was destroyed over time, but was also built over time—I think to give people just a sense of history and of time passing is important,” Topham says.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was inaugurated for a second term today, also spoke briefly for the documentary. “I wish those who have photographs of our national existence find a way to keep them because at some point we will need to establish, re-activate our museum,” she says. “The only thing that could capture for the young people Liberia’s road from independence to where we are today would be if we could gather good photographs that rarely depict that. I hope those of you who are skilled in this and those of you who have all these years been able to keep these photographs, make sure you able us to copy them so we have our children know their own country.”

Since leaving Liberia at the end of last spring, and on the plea from President Sirleaf, the brothers have done just that. They’ve been collecting photographs from around the world to help create a photographic archive for the people of Liberia at the National Museum in Monrovia. The Tophams have collected nearly 700 photographs to date, and they are looking for funding to return to Monrovia this fall to stage an exhibit and hand the pictures of peace over to the museum.

Liberia 77 has been shown on Canadian television and film festivals around the world. Read more about the project here. If interested in donating pre-war photographs of Liberia, click here. To learn more about the Tophams’ Indie Go-Go Fund Raising Platform, click here.

TIME Family

Famous Brothers and Sisters Throughout History

A gallery of famous siblings and their sometimes fractious, sometimes harmonious relationships

From Presidents to Princes, and from actors to athletes, fame often (but not always) runs in the family. Here’s a look at some of our favorite sets of celebrity brothers and sisters.

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