Incorporating laughter into a physical activity program could improve older adults’ mental health, aerobic endurance and confidence in their ability to exercise, a study has found.
In the study, older adults participated in a moderate-intensity group exercise program called ‘LaughActive’ that incorporates playful simulated laughter — self-initiated as bodily exercise — into a strength, balance and flexibility workout.
The findings showed that simulated laughter can be an ideal way for older adults with functional or cognitive impairment.
Significant improvements were also found among participants in mental health, aerobic endurance and outcome expectations for exercise.
Further, 96.2 per cent participants found laughter to be an enjoyable addition to a traditional exercise program, 88.9 per cent said laughter helped make exercise more accessible and 88.9 per cent reported the program enhanced their motivation to participate in other exercise classes or activities.
“The combination of laughter and exercise may influence older adults to begin exercising and to stick with the program,” said lead author Celeste Greene, graduate student at Georgia State University.
Despite the health benefits of physical activity and the risks of physical inactivity, many adults don’t engage in sufficient physical activity to achieve health benefits.
Maintaining the motivation to adhere to regular physical activity is a challenge for many older adults, the researchers said.
Adults should participate in a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week to achieve desirable health outcomes, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines.
These health benefits include lower mortality and a reduced risk of a number of chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, colon cancer, breast cancer, anxiety and depression.
Regular physical activity also reduces the impact of age-related declines in aerobic endurance, the incidence of falls and hip fracture and the degenerative loss of muscle mass, quality and strength.
All of these benefits are crucial in older adults maintaining their ability to perform activities of daily living.
The pleasant associations with laughter may add enjoyment to an exercise program and keep older adults motivated to work out, the researchers noted, in the paper published in the journal The Gerontologist.
For six weeks, the participants in the study attended two 45-minute physical activity sessions per week that included eight to 10 laughter exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds each.
As laughter is scientifically demonstrated to strengthen and relax muscles, the intentional laughter exercise was incorporated into the workout routine after every two to four strength, balance and flexibility exercises.