During periods of stress, change, or transitions, the last thing that anyone may feel like doing is laughing. It may feel awkward to crack a joke when supporting loved ones through a difficult period. However, it is important to remember that laughter – like other emotions –can affect psychological and physiological processes, according to Advances in Physiology Education.  In fact, numerous scientific studies have shown that it’s not just a common saying – laughter can really be the best medicine, particularly as we get older.

Humor for the Heart

A famous comedian had a standup bit about things people fear and he jokes: “What if you’ll be attacked and killed by your own heart?” Of course, heart disease is serious and it’s important to prevent it. The good news is laughter can help! Researchers in Japan sought to study the effects of daily laugher in older adults. They analyzed data from more than 20,000 men and women ages 65 and older and were able to conclude that laughing each day corresponded to lower cardiovascular disease risk. These findings were published in the Journal of Epidemiology.

Buffoonery for the Brain

Remember Red Skelton? Or the ‘90s hit show “America’s Funniest Home Videos”? Well when older adults watched 20 minutes of either of these videos during a study, researchers found that certain measures of brain health – learning, delayed recall and visual recognition – improved more than in those who did not watch any funny videos. Their findings, published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, suggest that humor should be incorporated into wellness programs for older adults.

Wisecracking During a Workout

Researchers at Georgia State University set out to determine what would happen if playful, simulated laughter was added to a physical activity program that was focused on strength, balance and flexibility. Participants in the study, who lived in four different assisted-living facilities, engaged in two 45-minute physical activity sessions per week for six weeks. During the sessions, laughter exercises were added. Their findings, published in The Gerontologist, showed that adding laughter when exercising may be able to improve mental health, aerobic endurance and personal confidence in participants’ abilities to exercise.

Beyond innovative therapies that incorporate laughter such as the one in the Georgia State study, the camaraderie of having others to laugh with is priceless. For many, fifty-five and older, a major asset of senior living and assisted living communities like Brookdale Living  can provide a community of friends and caregivers to joke around with, along with many activities to keep everyone upbeat and smiling. Laughter is just one of the many ways that older adults can continue to stay healthy, independent and find joy in each day. It is up to each of us to find it! (SP)