New Georgia State study finds laughing can make you stronger

Photo by Joshua Kehn
Photo by Joshua Kehn
Photo by Joshua Kehn

Georgia State professors took to the test to figure out just how valuable laughing can be for health.

Celeste Greene, a Georgia State graduate student, led the study with the help of three co-authors, Jennifer Craft Morgan and and Chivon A. Mingo in Georgia State’s Gerontology Institute, and LaVona S. Traywick from University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture. They conducted their study at four assisted living facilities to understand the benefits of laughter incorporated in an exercise program.

After facilitating laughter yoga classes, which involved voluntary laughter, Greene realized that laughter wasn’t enough to strengthen muscles. So she thought to study the effects of exercises when laughter is interspersed throughout the exercises.

“Even if you’re just making laughing sounds at first the playfulness and the eye contact transitions into genuine and contagious laughter, “ says Greene. “The body, however, can’t differentiate between the generated laughter and the genuine laughter. To your body, it’s the same, and you get all the same health benefits that are similar to aerobic exercises.”

With the help from research assistants, Green was able to facilitate all LaughActive exercises and begin her study in June 2014.

Each exercise session occurred twice a week for 45 minutes using two exercises that used dumbbells weights for upper body strengthening and resistive body weights for lower body strengthening, and as muscle gains were made, resistance gradually increased. It began with five-ten minutes of warm-ups, followed by 30-35 minutes of intensive repetitive workouts, and concluding with five-ten minutes of a light stretching. Eight-ten laughter exercises were typically incorporated into the workout routine lasting 30-30 seconds each.  

Greene and Dr. Morgan were able to infer that laughter improves overall physical and mental health.

The results showed that 96.2% of participants found laughter to be an enjoyable addition to an exercise routine, 92.6% found more joy in their lives and 88.9% found that laughter enhanced their motivation to take other exercise classes.  

The program helped bring a social element to an exercise class that might not otherwise be a social activity through laughter. One of the participants, who was anonymous in the study, said, “I don’t laugh enough. I appreciated the program.”

Although the participants were older adults, the results of the study would potentially be interchangeable with younger adults because both laughter and physical activity are important to maintain strength, balance, and endurance, according to Morgan.

“The older adult angle is what we were really interested in, but there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t have the same positive effects on younger people than it did on older people. Activity is a problem at all ages and laughter and exercise has benefits for all ages,” said Morgan.

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