Laughter is indeed the best medicine, but it's also the best exercise, a group of seniors learned Monday.
"Laugh until your sides hurt and tears roll down your cheeks, because laughter is the best medicine," said Erica Kelley, director of activities at Genesis Healthcare Crestwood, a Milford nursing home.
Interspersed with jokes and puns, Kelley made the case for laughing to a group of 25 at the Seniors Count-Nashua workshop, a monthly series at the Nashua Senior Activity Center.
"It's truly amazing the positive effects," she said, always returning to the case that a hearty diet of laughs can improve one's mental and physical well-being.
"More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope," she said. "Even (during) the most difficult times a laugh or even a simple smile can go a long way to make you feel better."
And it doesn't only improve your mood. Kelley said laughter can stop the production of killer T cells and sharpen the brain as it pumps more oxygen into the system.
"What soap is to the body laughter is to the soul," she said, "Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools."
Kelley said that where 30 minutes of exercise three times a week is recommended, a 15-minute daily dose of laughter can be beneficial to most of the body's systems.
It can also protect the heart. She cited Norman Cousins, the American journalist and professor, who battled ill health with a combination of vitamin C and laughter inspired by Marx Brothers movies. Cousins reported that 10 minutes of laughter would afford him two hours of pain-free sleep.
Not only does laughter improve the life of the laugher - it can also improve connections with family, friends and coworkers - even strangers, serving to unite people during difficult times.
Indeed, it's best to laugh with others, Kelley said. "Don't laugh alone. Shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotion sharing builds strong and lasting relationships and bonds, but sharing laughter also adds joy, vitality and resilience."
Kelley cited studies showing that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body, as well as stabilize blood pressure, increase heart rate and provide a natural boost to the immune system. It can also boost immune cell levels, and potentially reduce stress, which is associated with decreased immune system response.
She recalled another study where subjects' blood sugar improved while watching comedic movies as opposed to viewing tedious lectures, which had a detrimental effect.
The effects of laughter are endlessly beneficial and carry zero side-effects, Kelley said, adding zest to life and reprieve from anxiety and fear.
Kelley shared a joke with the crowd: A man and a woman who had never met before ended up in the same sleeping carriage of a train. They get to sleep, and in the middle of the night the woman asks the man for a blanket. The man says, let's pretend we're married, to which the woman giggles and says why not. "Good," he replies. "Get your own blanket."
Jesse Reczko of Nashua thought Kelley's presentation was the cat's meow, mainly because of her jokes. He plans on recounting some, "If I can remember them," he said. "At my age my memory is not what it used to be."
Reczko, 72, is a regular at the Nashua Senior Activity Center. He qualifies himself as a big jokester, though his wife doesn't always share his humor. Regardless, he often uses humor to make light of otherwise unpleasant situations.
Reczko attributes his happiness to constantly laughing and telling jokes.