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Why Laughter Is Sometimes the Best Medicine for Seniors
Elizabeth Bemis

By: Elizabeth Bemis on August 9th, 2021

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Why Laughter Is Sometimes the Best Medicine for Seniors

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Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about the importance of human connection in seniors’ lives. Socialization seems to be a major gateway to overall health and a longer lifespan, and curating a sense of community can have immense benefits with regard to a senior’s ability to thrive. One interesting byproduct of this human connection piece is the opportunity for laughter.

With more frequent human interaction in an older adult’s life comes the potential to access greater amusement and joy, often in the form of laughter. And the health benefits of this particular response simply can’t be ignored. So let’s talk about all the ways laughter positively impacts senior health and why it just might be considered the best medicine after all. 


Laughter Stimulates Organs & Releases Endorphins


When you laugh, your body naturally takes in more oxygen-rich air, which has the benefit of stimulating organs like your heart, lungs, muscles and brain. In addition, your diaphragm pulls on your side muscles and shakes up vital organs like your stomach. All of this leaves internal organs invigorated and alert. 


Laughing also increases the endorphins released by the brain, and these feel-good chemicals are integral to reducing stress and pain. Research has shown that endorphin release induced by social laughter may be an important pathway that supports formation, reinforcement, and maintenance of social bonds between humans. The pleasurable and calming effects of the endorphin release might signal safety and promote feelings of togetherness. This makes the laughter-endorphin cycle a closed-loop one: connection supports opportunities for laughter, which releases endorphins, which promotes more connection. 


Laughter Improves Stress Response


A hearty laugh can have the immediate result of making someone feel more relaxed. How? This physical response ignites and then calms a person’s stress response, increasing and then decreasing heart rate and blood pressure. The result of this is soothed tension and a more positive state of mind.


Another way laughter impacts stress response is by stimulating circulation, which naturally relaxes the muscles. Both of these help to overcome or minimize some physical effects associated with stress, thereby helping to reduce pain and enhance sleep.


Laughter Enhances Blood Pressure & Flow


When a person is experiencing an overload of stress, it can raise their blood pressure to a dangerous level. As we’ve just pointed out, laughter reduces stress. Therefore, by lowering one’s stress level, laughter has the additional benefit of lowering blood pressure. 


Plus, the act of laughing is correlated to improved functioning of one’s blood vessels, and that means it increases the body’s blood flow. Healthy blood flow is an important contributor to the prevention of heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues.


This relationship was tested when researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels by showing people comedies versus dramas. The results showed that the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally, expanding and contracting easily once the screening was over. The blood vessels of those who watched the drama, on the other hand, tended to tense up and restrict blood flow. 


Laughter Supports the Immune System


Can laughter really help your body fight illness? Apparently, it can. And here’s why: Whereas stress and negative thinking foster chemical reactions in your body that lower one’s immune defenses, positive thoughts and feelings, like those associated with laughter, release neuropeptides that help fight stress. This means laughter can aid in protecting your immune system and thwarting more serious illness.


And let’s not forget that laughter supports improved blood pressure, blood flow and stress response, which automatically helps your immune system function optimally. 


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Laughter Improves Mood & Helps Fight Depression


On the whole, laughter has the capacity to lift one’s spirits, help them feel more satisfaction and even aid in coping with difficult situations. As we noted, it’s a way to connect with others, and stronger personal connections go a long way in terms of battling depression and improving mood.


For seniors in particular, this is an important consideration. Chronic illnesses, loss of loved ones and other life changes can quickly spiral into feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. With the added endorphins laughter helps to release, plus the overall feelings of well-being it tends to promote, seniors can leverage laughter as a means of fighting depression and other mood problems. 


Furthermore, laughter supports the reduction of stress hormones like cortisol that have a significantly negative impact on the brain and can even deteriorate short-term memory function. By minimizing the release of cortisol, laughter gives your brain the time it needs to repair so that memory is not adversely affected in this way.


Laughter Aids in Relaxation and Sleep


If laughter is an antidote to stress and has the added benefit of easing some types of pain, it makes sense that it would promote relaxation and more quality sleep. 


When you experience severe stress for long periods of time, your muscles are in a nearly constant state of tension, and this long-term tension puts strain on the rest of the body, particularly in functions regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When stress impairs the HPA axis, other hormones may be inhibited to conserve resources, which can impede relaxation and sleep. 


By tamping down the stress factor, laughter helps regulate the chemicals in your body, the tension of your muscles, and the functioning of your brainall of which are necessary for healthy sleep patterns and a relaxed physical state. 


As you can see, laughter has a multitude of benefits spanning physical, mental and emotional areas of a senior’s life. This tells us that finding opportunities to laugh every day is highly important. Since this is best accomplished through human connection, seniors are well served by seeking out opportunities for socialization, relationship-building, engagement and community

To find out how United Methodist Homes provides a wealth of offerings and opportunities to support the health and wellbeing of our residents, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now. For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog.


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About Elizabeth Bemis

In 1998, I drove past an assisted living community construction site, learned that it was part of United Methodist Homes and realized the next stop on my professional journey was to work for a mission driven organization. Soon after, I joined the team as Executive Director of our Middlewoods of Farmington community and later served as Regional Manager for the Middlewoods properties before accepting my current role as Vice President of Marketing, Promotions, and Assisted Living Operations. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, walking, and love working alongside our staff, residents, and families to build strong communities that reflect the mission, vision, and values of United Methodist Homes.

Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.