Are there really health benefits in humour and laughter?
We all enjoy a good laugh, don’t we? But did you know having a giggle can actually have a genuinely beneficial effect on our health? In the last decade there have been a number of studies in different countries across the globe that have endeavoured to link laughter to the many health benefits that people have experienced.
Studies in universities in places such as North America, Taiwan, Australia and Iran have all had very similar results. Some have conducted trials on older people and others on teenagers, and it seems laughter is a universal pleasure, although different age groups tend to find different things funny.
The sound of children’s laughter is a joyful thing for many people, particularly for older people for whom it may evoke memories of their own children as youngsters. And the average child will laugh around 400 times in a single day. Compare that to the average adult, who laughs just 15 times a day.
In a care home setting, finding humour in what can sometimes be stressful situations is important for both our residents and our staff. Fortunately, in Embrace’s services across the country we are never short of laughs. The sounds of giggles and big belly laughs are very familiar to us all, which, it seems, is very good news.
The physical act of laughing triggers endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, so having a laugh can ease pain. That’s a real benefit for older people, who may be experiencing the inevitable aches and pains that growing old can bring. A prolonged, hearty laugh will give your muscles a full-scale workout and just twenty seconds is the equivalent to three minutes on a rowing machine. Now, we’re not advocating ditching the gym membership in favour of joining a comedy club, but it’s an interesting fact.
People that enjoy a good laugh report improved sleep patterns. And they don’t just get to sleep more quickly, the quality of their sleep is better and they are less likely to wake during the night.
A study on Taiwan in 2009 examined the link between laughter and its effect on Type 2 Diabetes. It concluded that laughing enhances activity within natural killer cells, which improves glucose tolerance.
Other physical benefits include the strengthening of heart and lungs; thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and enhancing oxygen intake. Blood pressure can be balanced, digestions can be eased and overall life expectancy improved. A good laugh can even burn calories. What’s not to like?
Good Mental Health
We really don’t need to look at studies to report that a good laugh can lighten one’s mood, but more than that, it can improve mental functions such as alertness, memory, creativity and well-being. An Iranian study in 2011 looked specifically at depression in older women and the results showed a reduction for women with depression who practised laughter yoga.
Laughter can ease anxiety and tension. It is always good as an ice-breaker or to diffuse tension or conflict following arguments or in social situations. And people often enjoy a comedy show late in the evening, which is perfect as it promotes relaxation and a good night’s sleep.
That Feel-Good Feeling
Laughter can help us to connect with other people; it strengthens relationships and social bonds. It really does make us feel good, and it’s catching! Laughter is universally contagious and universally understood, breaking down both language and social barriers. There are clips online of people spontaneously laughing with complete strangers (in an American subway carriage, for example) and they don’t know what it is the person is finding funny. They are laughing at the laughter!
A Laugh is a Laugh
Laughter is the physiological response to humour and a great way to benefit from this health-giving pastime is to enjoy a good comedy show or joke-telling session. However, you don’t need humour to give your laughing gear a workout. Our bodies cannot distinguish between natural laughter or therapeutic laughter, sometimes called ‘laughter without reason’ – terms given to laughter resulting from physical exercises intended to stimulate a laughing response.
Laughter Therapy is growing in popularity in the UK, having come over from the United States around a decade ago. Its history goes back further though – the first Laughter Club was started in Mumbai in 1995 by Dr Madan Kataria, who is credited with bringing laughter therapy and laughter yoga into the mainstream. Elderly groups, young people in care and mental health patients are all thought to benefit especially from laughter therapy. Sessions often leave participants feeling elated and exhausted in equal measure.
Laughter therapy teaches us that we don’t just have to laugh when we are happy. Laughing in the face of anger, stress or anxiety, even if it’s forced laughter – can actually lift your mood. And it’s infectious, so you can expect to see those around you giggling too, and getting the same great benefits.
Here at Embrace we recognise the value of laughter. The physical and mental welfare of all of the people we support and all our staff is hugely important to us, so we welcome the knowledge that laughter, it seems, really is the best medicine.
So what are you waiting for? Turn that frown upside down, count your blessings and if you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.