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You may have used one of these expressions at some point in your life; “you’re killing me,” “I just about died laughing,” or joke after joke “had me in stitches.” Perhaps a loving family member attempted to “tickle you to death” during your younger years. Whether it was a medium sized chuckle or a full belly guffaw, chances are no one actually died from enjoying a good laugh. In fact, laughter, including humor, can help you live longer and its numerous health benefits may really be the best medicine for your body and mind. Don’t have a comedian in your life to help you reap the benefits of laughter? That’s okay! “Fake” laughter from laughter-based exercise programs, also known as laughter yoga and laughter therapy, can have the same benefits on the body and mind as authentic laughter because the subconscious mind can’t exactly distinguish the difference. Plus, self-induced laughter often ends up turning into real laughter. These ideas – that laughter is beneficial to our health and happiness no matter how it happens - are the basis of the laughter yoga exercise program.
Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) was first introduced by Dr. Madan Kataria of Mumbai, India in 1995, and has since launched thousands of social laughter clubs in over 65 countries. It’s based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter – and much of the research shows it works. This mind-body exercise brings people together in a group where they gently stretch their body and chant “ha ha ha” and “ho ho ho” out loud while performing imaginary, often silly (e.g., knee slapping, funny faces, holding an imaginary cell phone, acting out social awkward situations) activities to try to induce laughter.
Studies with older adults have found laughter therapy improves quality of life – including relieving physical tension and stress, increasing happiness, helping blood vessels function better, improving immune system function, and boosting memory. Older adults who participate in a group exercise program that combines playful, simulated laughter with a strength, balance, and flexibility workout have significant improvements in their mental health, aerobic endurance, and confidence in their ability to exercise. With 10-15 minutes of daily laughing, adults can even burn 10 to 40 calories! Laughter relaxes the whole body and makes you feel good. So, go ahead, trigger those feel-good chemicals in the brain with a good hearty laugh.
Naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy, and other forms of alternative medicine are not covered by Original Medicare. However, your local fitness club may offer laughter yoga exercises. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C), you may qualify for a SilverSneakers membership for access to free fitness services. Otherwise, visit laughteryoga.org to find a laughter club near you.
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Last Revised 11/15/2017