Laughter Can Improve Senior Health and Wellbeing

Laughter Can Improve Senior Health and Wellbeing

You’ve probably heard all the sayings. A smile a day keeps the doctor away. A good laugh heals a lot of hurt. Laughter is an instant vacation. And of course, laughter is the best medicine!

Laughter is a significant form of stress relief, and that relief can extend far beyond your mental and emotional health. And it doesn’t have to be a laugh-fest that you get from a comedy show to lead to serious benefits – a quiet chuckle now and then when you read something funny or a smile when you watch a little kid do something silly can lift your spirits and do wonderful things for your body as well.

In fact, a large study in Norway followed almost 54,000 seniors over the span of 15 years and gauged their health related to how much they laughed. The study found that women who had a great sense of humor lived longer in spite of illness, especially infections and cardiovascular disease. Men in the study who had a top-notch sense of humor seemed to have more natural protection against infection.

There are literally no downsides to laughter. Laughter brings more than a few health benefits to the table for everyone, but perhaps especially for the elderly.

The Short-Term Benefits of Laughter

Laughter feels really good. It can feel so good, in fact, that you might even cry with laughter. Those tears are your body’s way of releasing significant amounts of stress. And while it might feel strange or embarrassing to cry in front of someone else for sad reasons, when you cry from laughter, it’s universally considered to be a very good thing!

What else happens when you laugh? Lots of things happen in your body all at once:

·        An endorphin rush. When you laugh, your brain releases endorphins that give you a rush of good feelings. These aren’t just good feelings for your brain, but for your body. Endorphins can relieve pain and make you feel more alive.

·        More oxygen. When you laugh, you take in more air than you do if you are simply speaking or breathing. The more oxygen you take in through laughter, the easier it is for your body to function.

·        Soothing to your heart. When you laugh, your heart rate increases and then rapidly decreases; this lowers your blood pressure. It also aids in circulation so your body feels more energized; it does this by increasing the stroke volume of your heart and dilating the blood vessels at the same time, so blood flows more easily.

·        A boost in stress response. Your body’s first response to laughing is to tense up a bit, but then it rapidly relaxes as the laugh continues. This alleviates stress and makes you feel more relaxed. Laughter triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which is a good thing. It also lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

The Long-Term Health Reasons to Laugh

The health benefits laughter brings last well beyond the last chuckle. Some of these you probably guessed, such as a better mood that lingers. But there are some that you might not have considered, such as the long-term effects of laughter on your body’s systems. Here’s what laughter does for you:

·        A natural pain reliever. Remember those endorphins? Turns out that they linger. The more you laugh, the more your brain releases those chemicals, and more natural pain relief you might get.

·        Immune system boost. Studies have shown that positive feelings and thoughts can do a great job of alleviating stress, but did you know those feelings can actually make you less likely to get sick? Positive thoughts release neuropeptides. Those are good for fighting stress and illness.

·        A better mood. Laughter can alleviate depression and anxiety. And as you start to feel happier, the laughter can actually boost your confidence.

·        More connections. Laughter is a great ice-breaker. You can laugh at something with complete strangers and suddenly, you have a bond. That can lead to talking, which can lead to new friendships.

·        Ease of coping. Laughter can be a good coping mechanism. The more you can find things to laugh about, the better you might be at handling difficult situations.

Laughter’s long-term benefits can actually affect certain health conditions. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs points out numerous studies that look at laughter’s effect on different health conditions. Laughter can decrease the overall rise in glucose levels after eating and delay cardiovascular complications of type 2 diabetes. Regular laughter is associated with fewer episodes of arrhythmias, reduces hyperinflation of the lungs in those with COPD, and decreases inflammation in those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

And laughter is very good for your brain. A study in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that humor therapy, which included watching a 20-minute funny movie, showed improvements in cognitive ability, delayed recall, and visual recognition in older adults.

How to Bring More Laughter into Your Life

What if you’re in a situation where laughter feels hard to come by? These tips might help you.

·        If it makes you laugh, get more of it. Did you see an episode of a sitcom that really made you smile? Make a point of streaming it as often as you can. Did you stumble upon a comedian you really like? Look up their comedy shows and watch those – or if they do a live show in your area, get tickets! Listen to funny podcasts, watch silly videos online, or read books that bring a light and airy humor to the page.

·        Spend time with funny people. Most people know someone who is always funny, no matter the situation. Whether their humor style is loud and boisterous, dry and subtle, or sarcastic enough to be jaw-dropping, they are the person everybody loves to be around. Spend more time with them!

·        Think about laughter. Yes, this is a thing. It works like this: You make yourself smile and laugh, even if you aren’t feeling like it. You make the sound of laughter with the idea that eventually, your body will take over and your laugh will be real. Though you can do this on your own at any time, trying it in a group can go from awkward to downright hilarious. Suggest it as a new activity at the local senior center or try it among family and friends.

·        Make an effort to choose laughter. When presented with two options, ask yourself which one makes you feel warm and happy inside? Head in the positive direction. For example, if you have the option of reading a somber mystery or a fun, light narrative about things that are uplifting, go with the latter.

·        Learn jokes and tricks. Sometimes making someone else smile is all you need to get a smile of your own. To that end, learn a few jokes to tell those you love. Jump into learning magic tricks and impress those around you with a few illusions. Create a mini-routine of stand-up jokes and present them to a group of friends at dinner. Exploring funny things will give you a nice boost.

·        Surround yourself with fun things. Keep things nearby that make you smile and laugh when you see them. It might be a funny postcard that invokes memories of a great vacation, a little stuffed animal that pulls at your heartstrings, or a fidget toy that makes fun noises. You can even go with stress balls that have bulging eyes when you squeeze them or funny alien creatures that can be bent into interesting shapes. Anything that makes you laugh is good to have close at hand.

·        Tell others you need to laugh more. Spread the word! Tell your family and friends that you’ve been reading about the great benefits of laughter and realized that you need to laugh more – a lot more. Ask them for their help. You might be surprised how many of your friends want to watch that new comedy show but haven’t because they just don’t want to watch it alone. So bringing up the need for more laughter might help someone else get more of it themselves. Everybody wins!

·        Spend time with the grandkids. Children bring something very special to the table – innocence, hope, and an opportunity to look at life in a totally different way. Watch a child as they laugh and discover new things that they think are funny. Try to see it through their eyes. You might find that the way they look at the world cracks you up.

Stay Safe to Stay Happy

There’s a lot of talk about laughter here, but in all seriousness, lots of laughter comes to a halt if an accident or medical emergency occurs. The best way to prevent that is through maintaining good senior whole health, and that can include aging in place home modifications to keep you safe, as well as an affordable medical alert system. When you are wearing a medical alert pendant, you have no doubt that you can press the button and get help right away. That peace of mind is a fantastic way to put a smile on your face.

But if you do fall or otherwise experience a serious accident or injury, that senior life-saving medical alert system can ensure that you get back on your feet sooner. How? By allowing you to call for help immediately rather than languishing on the floor, hoping that help will get there soon. The sooner you get medical attention, the better your health outcome will be.

Want to boost those benefits a medical alarm can bring? Add laughter into the mix! The benefits for your mood, immune system, heart, and every other part of your body could give seniors an edge that allows you to get better faster. That’s definitely something to smile about!