It’s true that laughter really is the best medicine. There’s no doubt that a good laugh is a contagious act of happiness, which transforms mind and body into a higher level of well-being.
But laughter isn’t just for fun or to be silly. Researchers from Georgia State University in the United States have found that a good laugh coupled with moderate exercise can boost the mental health of older people.
The study suggests that the “therapy” could be used to help those living with cognitive impairment as well as encouraging older people to persist with exercise regimes.
The study’s lead author Celeste Greene says: “We developed a physical activity program that specifically targets exercise enjoyment through laughter.”
“Laughter is an enjoyable activity and it carries with it so many health benefits, so we incorporated intentional laughter into this program to put the fun in fitness for older adults.”
‘Intentional’ or ‘simulated’ laughter means forced laughter as the body cannot distinguish between genuine laughter which might result from humor and laughter which is self-initiated into exercise.
In the study, older adults residing in four assisted-living facilities participated in a moderate-intensity group exercise program called LaughActive which incorporated playful simulated laughter into a strength, balance and flexibility workout.
“In simulated laughter exercises, participants initially choose to laugh and go through the motions of laughing,” Ms Greene says.
“The exercises facilitate eye contact and playful behaviours with other participants, which generally transition the laughter from simulated to genuine.”
For six weeks, study participants attended two 45-minute physical activity sessions per week which included eight to 10 laughter exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds each.
A laughter exercise was typically incorporated into the workout routine after every two to four strength, balance and flexibility exercises.
The researchers found that the addition of these laughing exercises had a profound effect on the residents – including decreased recovery time and increased flexibility and a greater overall confidence about exercise.
In a post-program survey, 96.2 per cent of residents said that laughter was an enjoyable addition to their exercise routine, and a huge 88.9 per cent said it made them want to exercise more, which Greene believes is the key to maintaining fitness in older populations.
The combination of laughter and exercise may influence older adults to begin exercising and to stick with the program,” Greene says.
The findings are published in the journal The Gerontologist.
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