Laughter Is Great Form of Exercise for Alzheimer's Caregivers
When I was deep into caregiving, it felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I tried to make room in my daily schedule for exercise, just like all the experts advocated. But do you know what made me feel the best? Laughing! And my newest theory is that laughter may be one of the best exercises for caregivers.
Now I know you’re thinking that I’ve lost it by thinking of laughter as exercise, but the laughs on you! A 2005 study out of Vanderbilt found that actually laughing burns calories, raises energy and increases your heart rate by 10-20 percent. “Ten to 15 minutes of laughter could increase energy expenditure by 10 to 40 calories per day, which could translate into about four pounds a year,” Clinton Colmenares wrote on Reporter, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s weekly newspaper.
And much like exercise, laughter also is a good way to ease stress. Scientific American reported on a study in which participants who watched a light-hearted comedy benefited through lowered blood pressure and changes in appetite hormones that mirrored what would happen with moderate exercise.
The Mayo Clinic also described multiple physical benefits from laughter. The short-term benefits include:
- Stimulation of the heart, lungs and muscles.
- Increased oxygen in the body through deep breathing.
- Increased release of endorphins to the brain.
- Activation and relief of the body’s stress response .
- Soothing of tension through stimulating circulation and assisting with muscle relaxation.
In addition, laughter can also provide long-term benefits through:
- Improving the immune system through releasing neuropeptides that assist in fighting stress and illness.
- Releasing the body’s natural painkillers.
- Making it easier to deal with difficult situations and to connect with people.
Thinking about these benefits and my own experiences with caregiving, I started wondering if combining laughter and exercise is possible? Turns out you can do this!
In 2005 The Washington Post reporter Don Oldenburg wrote a story that described laughter therapy, which is a hybrid branch of psychology, and an exercise movement called Laughtercising. Oldenburg noted that there are two laughter-advocacy groups, Laughter Club International in India and the World Laughter Tour in Ohio. These two groups have trained and certified “laughter leaders,” 1,000 of whom are in the United States.
I’ve also heard of (but not taken part in) Laughter Yoga. “Laughter Yoga builds on the working hypothesis that if the mind impacts the body, then the body must equally impact the mind,” according to the American School of Laughter Yoga website. “This is a two-way relationship and you cannot separate one from the other. If humor and specific mood-states can lead to laughter, the practice of laughter as a physical exercise can equally lead back to a strengthened sense of humor and those very same “happy” mood-states anytime, anywhere, alone or in a group.” The group even provides a list of 25 laughter yoga exercises so you can get started. Here are some of the choices you can pick:
- “Vowel Movement Laughter: have you had your vowel movement today? Laugh in the tonality of the following sounds: Eee Eee Eee Eee! Aye aye aye aye! Ah ah ah ah! Ho ho ho ho! Ooo ooo ooo ooo! Uh uh uh uh!”
- “Ear-Wiggle Laughter: slowly slide your left hand upward along the left side of your head, slowly going over your head as you say an extended “aeeee” sound, then laugh as you wiggle your right ear with your left fingers. Do the same on the other side. Repeat a few times.”
- "I Don’t Know Why I Am Laughing: laugh (fake is perfectly fine) and shrug your shoulders and make a big smile as you look at yourself in a mirror or anybody else who might be there and try to convey the message with your eyes and body language: ‘I absolutely don’t know why I am laughing.’”
I’m sure that there are other creative ways that you can combine laughter with exercise. For instance, I find that I get a little giddy these days when I am chasing – and being chased by – my dog. I think with a little attention, we caregivers can turn these little bits of lightheartedness while exercising into full-fledged laughter, thus relieving stress and doing good things for our bodies all at the same time.
Major sources for this story:
- American School of Laughter Yoga (2010). "25 Laughter Yoga Exercises to Get You Started."
- American School of Laughter Yoga (2010). "Concept and Philosophy of Laughter Yoga."
- Mayo Clinic (N.D.) "Stress Relief from Laughter? Yes, No Joke."