Laughter may boost physical activity, mental health for seniors

New study suggests combining laughter with moderate exercise may improve the mental health of older adults, as well as boost their motivation and ability to engage in physical activity.

It is well established that physical activity at any age is beneficial for health. For older adults, regular physical activity can boost heart health, aid weight control, reduce diabetes risk, improve bone health, and maintain and grow muscle strength.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults aged 65 years and older should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging, every week. Additionally, seniors should engage in muscle-strengthening activities; such as sit-ups or simply carrying heavy bags, at least 2 days a week.

Greene and team note that one major barrier to regular exercise for older adults, is lack of motivation, largely due to low enjoyment of physical activity. For their study, the researchers set out to investigate whether combining laughter with physical activity would boost exercise enjoyment for older adults, enabling them to reap the associated health benefits.

"We want to help older adults have a positive experience with exercise, so we developed a physical activity program that specifically targets exercise enjoyment through laughter," explains Greene.
"Laughter is an enjoyable activity and it carries with it so many health benefits, so we incorporated intentional laughter into this program to put the fun in fitness for older adults."

The findings showed that simulated laughter can be an ideal way for older adults with functional or cognitive impairment. Significant improvements were also found among participants in mental health, aerobic endurance and outcome expectations for exercise.

Further, 96.2 per cent participants found laughter to be an enjoyable addition to a traditional exercise program, 88.9 per cent said laughter helped make exercise more accessible and 88.9 per cent reported the program enhanced their motivation to participate in other exercise classes or activities.

Based on their results, Greene and colleagues believe incorporating laughter with physical activity could be a good way to improve both the mental and physical health of older adults.

Furthermore, the team says such an approach may encourage older adults with functional or cognitive impairments to reap the health benefits of laughter; they point out that simulated laughter does not require cognitive skills to "get the joke," because there is no joke to understand.

While their study findings show promise, the researchers point out that they are early results in a small number of participants, so further studies are needed to gain a better understanding of how laughter may benefit health.

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