You’ve heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine,” and you may even have found out the hard way it doesn’t give you a free pass to laugh at people with the flu. Rather, it refers to the seemingly magical ability of laughter, happiness, and positivity to lift someone’s spirits when they’re feeling crummy. But there’s also another element to laughter that is often overlooked: It’s great exercise.
We don’t really consider laughter to be a workout, but if you’ve ever sat through a Bill Hicks special — or the “Scott Tenorman” episode of South Park — you may have noticed that your core and abs can be sore the next day. And it’s due to the laughter; it actually gave you a workout.
Now, research is surfacing that shows laughter can actually be incorporated into a fitness routine as exercise to help improve health outcomes and lengthen life expectancy, particularly among older populations. In a new study published in The Gerontologist, researchers say that when laughter is added to physical activity routines for older adults, mental health and aerobic endurance both improve.
With the goal of seeing how “simulated laughter exercises” impacted health outcomes, the research team experimented with older adults living in four different assisted living facilities. The adults showed “significant improvements” after incorporating laughter into their daily routines.
Laughter: The best medicine
Does this mean your constant and irrational Seinfeld binges are actually helping you stay healthy? Perhaps — but you need to keep in mind these results were concentrated in populations of older adults, many of whom were probably seeing very little physical activity (comparatively) to begin with. Still, the findings are encouraging, but you probably shouldn’t substitute “The Contest” episode for your daily sojourn to the gym.
As for the study’s specifics, researchers had participants attend two 45-minute sessions for six weeks “that included eight to 10 laughter exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds each. A laughter exercise was typically incorporated into the workout routine after every two to four strength, balance and flexibility exercises,” a Georgia State University press release said.
And once again, the results “found significant improvements among participants in mental health, aerobic endurance, and outcome expectations for exercise (for example, perceived benefit of exercise participation), based on assessments completed by the participants.” Also significant, “88.9% said laughter helped make exercise more accessible and 88.9% reported the program enhanced their motivation to participate in other exercise classes or activities.”
Not only is laughter a good workout, but it can evidently inspire people to exercise more.
Laughing as exercise
It bears repeating that, no, you shouldn’t feel this research gives you a free pass to watch stand-up comedy instead of taking serious measures to get out and exercise. Especially if you’re young, or have the physical ability to move around and burn some calories. Senior citizens often have physical limitations that make it difficult, if not impossible to do more intense exercises — that’s why incorporating laughter (or thinking of it as exercise) is an acceptable idea among that particular slice of the population.
But seeing as how incorporated laughter did help inspire some seniors to get out to do more physical activity, it may also work as a catalyst for younger people as well. If you or someone you know is having a hard time summoning the energy to work out or get any kind of exercise, trying to find ways to bring laughter and humor into the mix might be a stepping stone worth exploring.
You could listen to comedy podcasts while you take a walk, for example. Or get on a treadmill and watch a Monty Python movie.
The key is to make fitness fun, and when you’re injecting laughter into an activity that some people might otherwise dread, it’s suddenly more enjoyable. It’s a Trojan Horse, of sorts, to get the idea into your head that fitness doesn’t have to be all about suffering. It could actually be fun.