Laughter as Medicine for Healthy Seniors

healthy seniors, well-being, laughter
Seniors using humor for better well-being

To laugh is to live and since laughter is said to be the best medicine, why not give it a try? We’re not saying to forget your exercise programs, or other senior health and fitness regimes because obviously these will optimize your physical health. But do consider that laughter is an essential ingredient to your better well-being too.

Laughter is known to cure diseases, reduces stress levels and generally makes us feel good; taking our mind off negative thoughts and events.

Some researchers think laughter is the key to putting that spring back in your step, leading to happy, healthy seniors. “I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off,” says Steve Wilson, MA, CSP, a psychologist and laugh therapist. “They might just be healthier too.”

Laughter is an important part of life and mastering ways in which to harness humor are simple. For example, grandchildren can provide hours of entertainment, with their quirky outlooks on life – spend more time with family and see the humor in their wonder.

What happens when we laugh?

When we laugh our physiologically changes. Muscles are stretched throughout our face and body, and our pulse and blood pressure go up. You will also notice we breathe faster and more erratically, which sends more oxygen to our tissues.

People who believe in the benefits of laughter for seniors say it can be like a mild workout, offering some of the same advantages. Think about times you have ‘belly laughed’ to the point where your abdominal hurt.

“The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar,” says Wilson. “Combining laughter and movement, like waving your arms, is a great way to boost your heart rate.”

One pioneer in laughter research, William Fry, claimed it took ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter.

And laughter appears to burn calories, too. Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study, where the amount of calories expended in laughing was measured. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.

Laughter – How it effects the body

Laughing is an easy (and fun!) activity for senior health and fitness. In the last few decades, researchers have studied laughter’s effects on the body. Here are some of the results.

• Blood flow. Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when seniors watched either comedies or dramas on TV. After the screening, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally, expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in seniors who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow. So catching an episode of Golden Girls can have effective results in more ways than one!

• Immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response. Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body, boosting the levels of immune cells.

• Blood sugar levels. One study of 19 seniors with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. The next day, after eating the same meal as the day before, the group watched a comedy movie. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.

• Laughter therapy is known to reduce stress hormones, increase muscle movement, boost immune system, increase disease fighting cells and proteins, and trigger release of endorphins (body’s natural painkillers). Laughter therapy was created in 1970s, when Norman Cousins overcame a chronic disease, a form of arthritis, by laughing at comedy clubs. Laughter provided him hours of medicine-free pain relief. This can play a part for seniors also, maybe taking a trip out to a comedy club once in a while.

Relaxation and sleep. The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.

While the results are intriguing, don’t be too hasty in ditching quitting those senior fitness programs. It is still essential to remain active as you get older.

Some researchers claim that with laughter research, it is sometimes difficult to determine cause and effect. However having a positive outlook on life and seeing the humor in things as opposed to being negative will certainly make for healthy seniors.

Laughter therapy is a therapeutic alternative method, using positive emotions generated by laughter to cure ailments and maintain a healthy body. Due to stress, unhealthy diets, reduced exercise and aging, our bodies become weak and prone to a variety of diseases. Seniors can suffer from a variety of diseases due to their reduced immunity.

Although not all diseases would be cured completely, laughter can bring several positive changes in your lifestyle. Laughter is the best stress-reducing instant cure. Stress can lead to several heart related problems such as heart attacks, strokes and cardiac arrest. Laughter helps to reduce blood pressure and lowers cholesterol levels.

How laughter improves the quality of life for healthy seniors

A good sense of humor, a positive attitude, and the support of friends and family all play major roles in health and fitness for seniors. Seniors with a positive attitude are generally more motivated and find it easier to look and laugh at life.

“The definitive research into the potential health benefits of laughter isn’t finished yet.” says Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.
But Provine believes that regardless of whether laughter actually improves health or boosts energy, it undeniably makes for healthy seniors, improving their quality of life.

So whether it’s through spending time with grandchildren or just kicking back and watching a good old comedy movie, remember to laugh.

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