Laugh It Off: Exercise + Laughter Equals Benefits for Older Adults
In light of research that suggests enjoyment is a predictor of physical activity participation in older adults, a recent study examined whether an exercise program called LaughActive, which incorporates simulated laughter exercises, would increase participation in physical activity, participant health, and self-efficacy for assisted living participants.
The class had four components: strength, balance, flexibility, and the laughter exercises. The exercise components were all of moderate intensity. The laughter exercises were interspersed between the other exercises, with each session including eight to ten laughter exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds each. For simulated laughter, humor is not used to produce laughter; instead, participants are asked to laugh. Research has shown laughter to have benefits that are both physical (due to the muscles involved) and emotional (positive emotions and lower stress).
This study looked at the impact of the LaughActive program on 27 participants in assisted living (average age of 82), half of whom took the class while the other half, who were on a wait list, served as a control group for comparison. The classes met twice weekly for six weeks and lasted 45 minutes each.
Comparing course participants with the wait-listed control group, LaughActive participants showed significant improvements in mental health, aerobic endurance, and in self-efficacy attitudes toward exercise. When asked about the contribution of the laughter exercise component, 96 percent found it to be an enjoyable addition to traditional exercise classes, and 89 percent felt it made exercise more accessible and that it added to their motivation to participate in other exercise activity. All participants reported feeling better overall after the class; 93 percent found more joy in their life as a result of LaughActive, and 89 percent wanted to continue taking the class.
Though this study was conducted with a small number of assisted living residents, both the statistically significant findings and results from course evaluations suggest that an exercise program incorporating simulated laughter shows great promise. The addition of laughter exercises appears to increase the enjoyment over traditional classes and to keep participants motivated to continue exercising—both important aspects for exercise classes aimed at older adults.