In the Bible, Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart is good medicine.” And there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and scientific research to support this Biblical view.
Until recently, researchers hadn’t confirmed scientifically how laughter affects the health of seniors and whether everyday laughter could really help seniors remain healthy and independent. This has now been shown to be true. But it’s not just laughter alone that’s important, it’s who you laugh with.
Laughter has many health benefits. It boosts immunity, reduces symptoms of depression, raises mood, lowers blood pressure, improves blood sugar control in diabetics, and prevents cognitive decline.
These wonderful benefits led to the advent of laughter therapy. Laughter yoga has been growing in popularity since it was introduced in India in 1995. And in Japan, the Smile-Sun Method (SSM) of laughter therapy is used to promote natural healing.
First-of-its-Kind Research in Seniors
Since it wasn’t clear to researchers the health impact of a regular chuckle in the everyday life of seniors, researchers from Nagoya University in Japan decided to investigate.
The researchers evaluated laughter from three perspectives: The situations that cause us to laugh, the number of situations that lead us to laugh with others, and the people with whom we laugh.
The 12,571 study participants were part of the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES) that examines factors linked to the health and well-being of those aged 65 and over. All participants could independently perform daily activities when the study began.
Lowered the Risk of Functional Disability By 30 Percent
Over a period of six years, 1,420 people developed functional disabilities. These are defined as acquired difficulty in performing basic everyday tasks or more complex tasks needed for independent living.
After considering factors that could influence the findings, the researchers wrote in their paper, published in the journal Preventive Medicine in February, “Laughing in a conversation with friends reduced the risk of functional disability by approximately 30 percent compared to laughing alone.”
Interestingly, the positive effects of laughter weren’t quite as strong when having a chortle with family members compared to friends.
The researchers also found that the more people laughed with others, the greater the decline in functional disability.
Laughing With Friends is Best
This research suggests seniors should meet up with friends regularly and laugh with them often to help stave off functional decline. Confining laughter to watching television is not the best option but, say the researchers, it’s better than never laughing at all.
Senior study author Yudai Tamada explained, saying, “Laughter with friends brings health benefits such as stress release, improvement of immune functions, and a sense of social connectedness.”
A few years earlier another research group from Japan delved into the influence of laughter on heart disease and death from any cause.
Laughter Reduces Risk of Death By 95 Percent
The study included 10,149 men and women with an average age of 62. Each reported their frequency of laughter, and their responses were divided into three categories. Group One: Laughter once a week or more. Group Two: Laughter between once a week and once a month. Group Three: Laughter less than once a month.
During the follow up period of about 5½ years, 257 subjects died and 138 experienced a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.
After researchers accounted for many different factors including lifestyle, medical conditions and sociodemographic characteristics, the analysis revealed the risk of cardiovascular events was 62 percent higher in group two compared to group one and the risk of death from any cause was 95 percent higher in group three compared to group one.
The researchers concluded that “daily frequency of laughter represents an independent risk factor for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease in a Japanese general population [and] that increasing the frequency of laughter might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and increase longevity.”
I’m not surprised by the new research. There are countless other studies that show the value of laughter and positivity in fighting depression and anxiety as well as numerous other physical and mental health conditions—even cancer.
The fact is, you don’t need an excuse to get together with some friends and share some laughs, your health depends on it.