I’m just like many menopausal women who suddenly find themselves behind the eight ball when multiple major life issues - work, aging parents, other demands – come at them all at once and the stress levels reach astronomical levels. Those stress levels then play havoc on the body’s energy levels and the brain’s ability to function. You also don’t recover from these stressful episodes as fast as you did when you’re in your 20s. And that can be problematic since having extra amounts of cortisol (which is the hormone that your body releases when it’s under stress) in your system can damage the brain’s hippocampus region. This brain region is primarily responsible for memory and spatial navigation (which is how we use cue sources such as landmarks to determine and then travel a route).
In my case, my stress level jumped tremendously when my elderly father experienced some severe medical issues that caused him to be placed into the intensive care unit late last week. Now that things are beginning to calm down, what can be done to relieve the built-up stress? It turns out that I made a good choice – last night my brother and I guffawed heartily to the classic skit, "Gone with the Wind", from "The Carol Burnett Show" DVD.
Laughter lowers stress levels. And researchers are finding that a good chuckle can be priceless as far as your brain’s health. For instance, a new study out of Loma Linda University evaluated the relationship between the stress hormone cortisol and short-term memory in participants who were in their late 60s.
In this study, researchers showed a 20-minute comedic video to a group of healthy elders and to another group of elders who had diabetes. The researchers then assessed the participants’ memories to determine learning, recall and sight recognition. The results of these assessments were then compared to a control group of elderly people who had their memories assessed but who did not watch the comedic video.
The researchers’ analysis found that learning ability improved markedly for both groups that watched the video (38 percent in the healthy elderly group and 33 percent in the diabetic group, as compared to 24 percent for the control group). Furthermore, delayed recall also was much better for the two groups that watched the video (44 percent for the healthy group and 48 percent for the diabetic group, as compared to 20 percent for the control group). Visual recognition also was higher for the video groups (13 percent for the healthy group and 17 percent for the diabetic group, as compared to 8 percent for the control group).
In an additional part of the study, the participants who watched the comedy video had their levels of cortisone recorded both at the beginning and the end of the experiment. The analysis of the saliva test found borderline significant lowering of cortisol levels in the healthy elderly group that watched the video and significant decreases in this hormone in the diabetic group. The control group (which didn’t watch the video) didn’t experience any changes.
"It’s simple, the less stress you have, the better your memory. Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state," said Dr. Gurinder Singh Bains, the study’s lead author. "The act of laughter or simply enjoying some humor increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward. These positive and beneficial neurochemical changes, in turn, make the immune system function better. There are even changes in brain wave activity towards what’s called the ‘gamma wave band frequency’, which also amp up memory and recall. So, indeed, laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life."
So next time you’re under stress, find something to laugh at Your brain and body will feel better - and work better!
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
The American Physiological Society Press Release. (2014). Fight memory loss with a smile (or chuckle).
Mandal, A. (2014). Hippocampus - What is the hippocampus? NewsMedical.net.
Springer Reference. (ND). Place learning and spatial navigation.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.