Published in the journal The Gerontologist, this study supports the notion of mind over matter – even feigning happiness can have physical and emotional benefits.
Older adults from four different assisted living facilities participated in the study for six weeks. Participants attended two sessions per week for 45 minutes each; each session included strength, balance and flexibility exercises as well as laughter exercises. After every two to four physical exercises, the group practiced between eight and ten laughter exercises for 30 to 60 seconds each. Laughter is thought to strengthen and relax muscles, which is why it was done consistently throughout the work out session.
Results of the study found that participants had improvements in mental health and aerobic endurance, and perceived better outcomes of their exercise routine. The enhancement in quality of life further encouraged participants to maintain a healthy regimen of physical activity.
The brain and body cannot differentiate between simulated and genuine laughter, which is why both forms can generate health benefits. Oftentimes, however, simulated laughter in these classes becomes genuine! Simulated laughter is also recommended for older adults experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline or dementia, as there is no need for the person to understand a joke – the classes simply take the person through the bodily motion of laughing, which is enough to benefit long-term brain health and improve mood.
This study is one of the first of its kind to analyze the effects of laughter in a structured exercise program, as well as the first of its kind to look at the benefits of laughter in older adults. Adults with bigger social networks often enjoy greater mental health benefits, so we are interested to learn more about socialization, laughter and happiness from future studies!
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