They say laughter is the best medicine, but new research suggests this may actually be truer than previously thought.
Evidence has shown that many elderly people living in aged care homes have a higher chance of developing depression and anxiety, so researchers from La Trobe University in Melbourne set out to find if laughter can help lower the chances of the two developing in aged care residents.
The benefits of laughter yoga
28 people living in aged-care homes took part in the experiment, which consisted of the residents taking part in what is referred to in the study as “laughter yoga”.
This special type of group therapy involves a combination of deep breathing, clapping and laughing. The breathing exercises are used to warm up the lungs for laughter, while the clapping is accompanied with various techniques such as stretching, chanting and acting, which then leads into the laughter phase.
It originated in the mid-1990’s and became popular among older people by Indian physician Madan Kataria, who writes about the therapy’s benefits in his book Laugh for No Reason.
It is believed that twenty minutes of laughter is required to reap all the physiological benefits.
The therapy proved to show some promising results. Resident’s moods, levels of happiness, pulse and blood pressure were measured at the beginning and end of each session.
Researchers found that the majority of participants showed a more positive mood, greater levels of happiness, as well as a lower blood pressure.
Laughter Yoga instructor and co-author Ros Ben-Moshe, says the effects on residents as a result of the therapy were overwhelmingly positive.
“Laughter is contagious and even in residents with dementia we noticed an increase in social engagement and laughter,” she said.
Health benefits of laughter
Lead author of the study, Julie Ennis, stated that the positive results are due to the noted health benefits of laughter.
“A growing body of evidence indicates the health benefits of laughter,” she said.
Dr Ennis also stated that laughter can reduce levels of stress and blood pressure, as well as increase the release of endorphins, which are commonly referred to as the body’s natural painkillers.
“Based on our findings, there is good reason to run regular sessions in aged care facilities,” she said.
This could result in laughter yoga sessions being conducted in other areas of the care industry, such as for people in respite care, where the therapy could be administered to those needing day respite or overnight respite.
But while the effects of laughter seem to greatly help those in aged care, Dr Ellis says laughter is not the one cure all medicine, but rather a complimentary one alongside the more traditional medicines used in the industry.
She says while medication should still mainly be used to treat depression, anxiety and high blood pressure, laughter is still a great thing to use alongside typical medication to boost one’s physical, emotional and social health.
Laughter may not be replacing our typical medical techniques anytime soon, but it seems a little laughter can still help us all.