We all know it feels good to laugh, but can laughter cure common diseases like cancer, dementia or heart disease? Do people with a positive attitude live longer, healthier lives?
Learn more about the many health benefits of laughter for seniors.
Health Benefits of Laughter
In the late 1980’s, Dr. Bernie Siegel’s “mind over matter” theory gained popularity. The theory suggested that a positive attitude could actually cure diseases like cancer.
Siegel’s theory was later disproved by a number of studies in the early 1990’s. In fact, according to the Independent, four major studies showed “that changing attitudes and the mind, while they certainly helped the patients to cope and to get a higher quality of life, didn’t actually prolong survival.”
Although a positive attitude may not be enough to cure disease, the positive health benefits of laughter are widely accepted, especially in regards to senior’s health.
These benefits include:
- Boosting the immune system.
- Increasing endorphin levels – Endorphin is our body’s’ natural pain killer and laughing increases our levels of endorphins.
- Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol – Seniors are at a higher risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Laughter increases oxygenation of the blood and helps with circulation, which can have positive effects on seniors with heart disease and high cholesterol.
- Reducing stress, anxiety and depression – Laughing increases the levels of dopamine and other stress-busting chemicals in our body, which can naturally decrease stress, anxiety and depression.
- A workout for the diaphragm and abdominal muscles – Exercising these muscles is especially important for seniors with asthma or bronchitis.
Laughter and Immune Function
How does laughter enhance immunity?
According to WebMD, Dr. Lee Berk, a pathology professor at Loma Linda University in California, “examined before-and-after blood samples from subjects who had viewed humorous videos and from a control group who had not. He found significant reductions in stress hormones and enhanced immune function – including increased natural killer cells – in the video-watching subjects.”
Laughter and Pain Tolerance
The relationship between laughter and pain is complex and not widely understood.
In 1995, an Israeli study showed that humor clearly helped subjects withstand pain, however it wasn’t the most effective emotional response (repulsion increased pain tolerance the most).
Yoga and laughter share some common benefits – including lowering anxiety, blood pressure and cholesterol, depression and stress. However, for seniors who face mobility challenges, traditional yoga may not be an option.
Laughter yoga, also known as “Hasyayoga,” is ideal for seniors in wheelchairs or with other mobility issues. According to Wikipedia,
Hasyayoga “is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter.”
Are there medical benefits to laughter yoga? “A handful of small-scale scientific studies have indicated that laughter yoga may potentially have some medically beneficial effects, including benefits to cardiovascular health and mood… A study by Oxford University found that pain thresholds become ‘significantly higher’ after laughter, compared to the control condition, and saw this as being due to laughter itself, rather than the mood of the subject. The study suggested that laughter produced an ‘endorphin-mediated opiate effect’ which could ‘play a crucial role in social bonding’,” Wikipedia reports.
There’s no doubt that laughing has health benefits for everyone, especially seniors who are at greater risk of depression, heart disease, pain and weaker immunity than the rest of the population. So, whether it’s a funny book or just a good conversation with friends, encourage the senior in your life to laugh more. It’ll do you both good.
Has your family seen the health benefits of laughter in seniors? Share your experiences and stories with us in the comments below.