You have no doubt heard the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine.” No one takes that literally, of course, but we all know from experience just how beneficial a good laugh can be for making us feel better. A growing number of medical practitioners agree that laughter assists both body in mind in surprising ways that have a solid basis in medical science.
Physical health is a primary concern for senior citizens and exercise is great for reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, it is a sad fact that many people in their middle years and older do not get the amount of exercise they need to avoid such health complications.
The problems that can come with aging make it difficult for some to function at the best of their abilities. This is especially true for those struggling with pain that increases through physical activity. Those affected are even less likely to have the energy or motivation for exercising.
Fortunately, science is showing that merriment can provide people with the spark and motivation to turn things around. Researchers at Georgia State University have discovered that laughter, combined with moderate exercise, results in significant and positive results for senior citizens. As reported in The Gerontologist, the GSU researchers created a program called LaughActive. Their testing stage used 27 golden agers from assisted care homes and asked them to attend two 45 minute sessions per week over a period of a month and a half.
The test subjects participated in a special routine designed to enhance flexibility and strength. Interspersed with these were laughing exercises lasting a minute or less. The vast majority of the participants (96.2%) reported that the laughter application made them more receptive to the physical components of the workout.
Laughter increases the production of endorphins, the brain’s “feel good” chemical. That increases pain resistance, thus making individuals with chronic pain issues more likely to increase their physical activity. Both mind and body reap the rewards as a result.
While you would expect that asking people to periodically laugh would seem forced and ineffectual, it turns out that simulated laughter is just as beneficial as spontaneous mirth. This is a revelation for seniors suffering from cognitive challenges who might not otherwise be able to understand an attempt at humour. The simulated laughter techniques led to unforced and rewarding bonding, causing participants to relax and become more receptive.
The idea of taking a standard exercise program for senior citizens and enhancing it through the addition of fun and social connection holds great promise. Those working with this age group and looking to include LaughActive in their program can sign up for the training and certification program, which requires about 40 hours of learning time.
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