Senior Men Laughing

It’s a wonder drug that reduces stress, boosts the immune system, relaxes tense muscles, increases blood flow and enhances memory. And you don’t even need a prescription—just a few minutes with a funny movie, a silly cartoon or a witty friend.

We’re talking about laughter, often described as the best medicine, and what better time to celebrate its many benefits than during the month that kicks off with April Fools’ Day? National Humor Month was founded in 1976 to increase awareness of the many advantages of a joyful disposition and a good chuckle. In the decades since, many studies have confirmed that regular bursts of laughter really can make us happier and healthier.

The elderly may have the most to gain by making humor a part of every day. A recent study of 20 healthy people in their 60s and 70s found those who spent 20 minutes watching funny videos had significantly better memory recall than those who sat silently for the same amount of time. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol also declined more in the video-watchers than in those who just sat quietly.

Other side effects of a good guffaw also benefit seniors, such as the intake of oxygen-rich air that stimulates heart, muscles, lungs and feel-good endorphins in the brain. In addition to enhancing mood, the endorphins released with laughter may also diminish the sensation of pain and engender a more positive outlook that, in turn, releases neuropeptides that can improve immunity and relieve stress.

All this from a spontaneous response that is universally recognized by people of every country and culture, yet remains a bit of a mystery. Neuroscientist Robert Provine, who has studied laughter for more than a decade, defines it as a “hidden language,” an “instinctive behavior programmed by our genes,” and a “social vocalization that binds people together.”

That vocalization, otherwise known as a shared laugh, erupts whenever people get together, which is a good reason to add regular social activities to your day. Monarch Landing offers many opportunities to exchange a silly joke or witty riposte through various clubs that meet over books, cards, Bunco, pool, coffee or lunch. That’s one sure way to get the 15 minutes of daily laughter recommended by Michael Miller, author of “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.”

Or start your day with a page from a humor calendar, the daily offering on jokesoftheday.net, or by finding the comedy in your own personal foibles. You may improve your health in the process, but at the very least, you’re sure to improve your mood.