Friends with health benefits: Laughing with friends helps reduce risk of disability among the elderly

Friends with health benefits: Laughing with friends helps reduce risk of disability among the elderly By  for Prevention

Having a good laugh can help cheer you up when you’ve had a very stressful day. According to research published in the journal Preventive Medicine, laughing with your friends may also help improve your health.

The study revealed that sharing a laugh with a friend reduces the risk of cognitive or physical disability by over 30 percent for those aged 65 and over. This was in comparison to people of the same age who laughed alone, like when they were watching TV without any company.

The reason for the findings has yet to be determined, but the researchers hypothesized that laughing with friends may improve immune functions, which can then help reduce the risk of disability.

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Laugh your way to better health

Lead author Yudai Tamada of Nagoya University in Aichi, Japan, explained that laughter with friends “brings health benefits such as stress release, improvement of immune functions, and a sense of social connectedness.”

The research team set out to learn more about the link between laughter in daily life and the onset of “functional disability” among people in Japan. So far, the potential health benefits of laughing in daily life are seldom studied.

To learn more, the researchers examined data from the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JGES) to analyze the factors linked to the health and well-being in adults aged 65 and above.

In the study, the researchers used data from 12,571 “physically and cognitively independent’ participants” from JGES who all returned completed surveys on their laughter habits. At least 46.1 percent of the participants were male.

The researchers evaluated their laughter in daily life from three perspectives:

  1. The types of situations in which people laugh
  2. The number of situations in which people laugh with others
  3. The persons with whom people laugh

Laughter and the risk of functional disability

During an average follow-up period of 6.3 years, 1,420 or 11.3 percent of the volunteers developed functional disability.

After adjusting for potential confounders like alcohol intake, the volunteers who laughed with others reduced their risk of functional disability by 30 percent. In studies concerning a potential cause-and-effect relationship, a confounder or confounding variable is “an unmeasured third variable that influences both the supposed cause and the supposed effect.”

The findings also showed that the number of situations to laugh with others was “inversely associated with the risk of functional disability.”

The researchers added that having more situations to laugh with others or at least the situation to laugh with friends can help reduce the risk of functional disability later in life. They also discovered that people who laughed in conversation with friends had a lower risk of functional disability than individuals who laughed with their partners, children or grandchildren.

The researchers acknowledged that how exactly laughter helps improve health is still unknown. They believe that suspected mechanisms underlying the health benefits of laughter could be stress relief and improvement of immune functions. (Related: The link between physical and mental health: Mood, sleep and stress influence your sense of control.)

The researchers also acknowledged that their study has yet to clearly conclude that laughter itself can prevent the onset of functional disability and they concluded that more research can help accurately identify causality.

Mental health benefits of laughter

As the study suggests, laughter offers many health benefits:

  • It releases endorphins. These natural chemicals in the body promote a sense of well-being and relieve stress.
  • It decreases anger. When you’re in a difficult situation or arguing with another person, seeing the humor in it can help. Specifically, laughter can help defuse anger, conflict and self-blame.
  • It eases distressing emotions. Laughter can help counteract your feelings of anxiety and sadness. It can also help you release other intense emotions, like grief.
  • It relaxes and revitalizes. Laughter also increases your energy levels, which can help you stay focused more easily.

Learn More – Prevention

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