Laugh Away the Years


Norman Cousins first said, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Today’s researchers are proving he was right. Several studies in the past few years are showing that regular laughter can reduce the symptoms of both depression and dementia.

One study out of Sydney, Australia, which included 400 patients in 36 nursing homes, showed that after receiving “laugh therapy,” patients appeared 20 percent less agitated. This is about the same results achieved through antipsychotic medication, with absolutely no chance of side effects.

What is Laughter Therapy?
What exactly is laugh therapy? In this study, it involved watching and participating in a comedy routine by humor therapist and children’s clown doctor Jean-Paul Bell. The routine included games, songs, jokes and ukelele music. After seeing the results of humor for sick children, Bell shifted his focus to the elderly.

But laughter therapy can take nearly any form, from laughter yoga to stand-up comedy. Laughter yoga bears only a faint resemblance to actual yoga… no complicated poses or stretching involved. Participants sit in a room, making eye contact, and begin a series of “laughter exercises,” where they simply practice laughing until they really feel it.

Does it sound difficult to laugh when you don’t want to? Nancy Irwin, therapist, comments on the practicality and possibility. “You actually can train yourself to laugh even if you do not feel like it. Like any therapy, it requires an open mind and a willingness to do your part to heal, especially when you do not feel like it! There will be a tipping point where you move from ‘forcing’ yourself with fake laughter into genuine laughter. It is much easier in groups because we tend to end up laughing at how silly others look forcing laughter!”

Laughter to Treat Depression
Other therapists have recently suggested that using humor, actually telling jokes, can help patients suffering from depression. Learning how to tell jokes well boosts self-esteem, and stand-up comedy forges a connection with others that those suffering from depression may miss in everyday life.

Residents in a senior community who are given the opportunity to practice stand-up comedy may decide they have a knack and love the art form. Activities coordinators may organize an open mic comedy night; audience members and comedians, alike, will benefit from the laughs.

More Benefits of Laughter
Laughing, whether forced or genuine, has a number of health benefits. It has been shown to:

  • Boost blood flow to the brain
  • Increase the production of dopamine and endorphins, the body’s natural mood-boosters
  • Burn calories
  • Boost your heart rate
  • Reduce stress and strengthen the immune system
  • Improve oxygen flow to your cells for overall improved health

Irwin says, “Laughter is at least as powerful as any placebo. I believe there is nothing more powerful than human thought. If you believe laughter can heal you, it will. If you believe this is hogwash, then it certainly is… to you.”

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