Laughter is the Way to Good Health

“Laughter is a form of internal jogging. It moves your internal organs around. It enhances respiration. It is an igniter of great expectations. So let us laugh our way into good health, into happiness, and a brighter day.” Norman Cousins

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The old saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’, has withstood the test of time. Laughter is good for one’s health and soul. In fact, holistic interpretations of health and wellness would agree that people may well hold the key to good health.

Over the past 20 years, an international movement has erupted in the holistic wellness sphere – Laughter Yoga. Laughter yoga is a simple yet effective technique that combines laughter with yogic breathing techniques to improve quality of life. This revolution is no laughing matter, (pun intended!) and is currently practiced in more than sixty countries with thousands of laughter clubs across the globe.

Photo Credit: Oxfam International
Photo Credit: Oxfam International

The benefits of laughter yoga go beyond just emotional and mental health; scientific research indicates that the human body can also benefit from this exercise. A Vanderbilt University study reported that 10-15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories. Another study from Loma Linda University showed that a sense of humor can protect against heart disease. According to Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga University and the laughter yoga movement, some other benefits of the practice include:

  • Good Mood and More Laughter: Laughter yoga helps to change your mood within minutes by releasing positive endorphins, which will keep you cheerful throughout the day and make you laugh more than you normally do.
  • Healthy Exercise to Beat Stress: Laughter yoga is like a cardio workout that brings more oxygen to the body and brain, making one feel more energized and relaxed.
  • Health Benefits: Laughter yoga reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. You will not fall sick easily, and if you suffer from chronic health conditions you will heal faster.
  • Quality of Life: Laughter fosters positive energy, which improves relationships. If you laugh more, your vitality will invite more people into your life.
  • Positive Attitude in Challenging Times: Laughter creates a positive mental state that gives hope and optimism to cope with difficult times.

Many countries have picked up on this international trend, including Ethiopia where laughter yoga has achieved such popularity that October 31 is declared National Ethiopian Laughter Day. Laughter yoga was first introduced to the Ethiopian health and wellness space in 2002 by world laughter master Belachew Girma. Girma opened the first laughter yoga school in Addis Ababa called Laughter for All Association -Ethiopia. The school provides laughter yoga trainings in “Indigenous Laughter”, which focus on helping people hone their innate, natural laughter through Team Bonding, Stress Management, Positive Thinking, and Peace Building exercises. In addition to traveling around the world sharing his message, Girma visits old age homes in Ethiopia with professional laughter therapists as part of the school’s mission is to improve the quality of life for the elderly through laughter.

While the laughter yoga movement has been greatly successful across borders, it has had a unique impact in the African context. Health care accessibility in most African countries has seen significant improvements over the past ten years although mental health has not received enough attention. According to a study published in International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 79 percent of African countries spent less than one percent of their total health budget to mental health. Therefore, alternative self-treatments like laughter yoga can provide essential support in fighting mental illness.

Although the absence of laughter is not the root cause of all health issues, laughter yoga is a potential solution to the ailments of an increasingly sedentary and isolating lifestyle. The Social Care Institute for Excellence in the UK states that “The range of interventions for alleviating loneliness and social isolation can be grouped into one-to-one interventions, group services and wider community engagement. Those that look most effective include befriending, social group schemes and Community Navigators”. To sum up, social interaction is key to dealing with mental and physiological illnesses that stem from loneliness, and laughter yoga is a tool that facilitates such interaction.

Andria Reta is a Gerontologist and Health Administration Professor.

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Music and Memory: How Radio Stations Impact the Health of Older Australians

Older Australians represent a significant proportion of individuals with diverse ethnicities, cultures and religious backgrounds. This increasing population requires different interventions and programs to break down language and cultural barriers, hence music plays an important role. From love songs to memorable music from TV shows, music represents certain moments in time that are rooted in the minds of individuals, despite forgetting the occasions. It appeals to a person’s most inner self and holds a special place in people from all works of life.

Photo Credit: William Li
                                                                                Photo Credit: William Li

While music can trigger positive thoughts and memories, the use of speech, song, memory, cognition, intellect, creative imagination and expressive motoric responses may be activated and developed in therapy, both as new means of self-expression and as a therapeutic goal. Music improves both health and well-being, therefore people with no musical background or prior skill can benefit from music therapy. For instance, patients with dementia can gain from music reminiscence therapy, a non-pharmacological approach to managing symptoms and behaviours of dementia such as agitation and wandering.

Various studies have shown that older adults are found to respond most positively to repertoire that was popular when they were in their early 20s and 30s, stimulating long-term memories. In Australia, Silver Memories helps residents remember their youth and early stages of adulthood. The new nostalgia radio station is for older adults who are lonely and socially isolated in the community, especially residents of aged care homes. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides therapeutic benefits to people with dementia, since research has shown that the service is a unique approach in managing the effects of dementia – the first of its kind. Now the radio station has been rolled out to numerous aged care homes in Australia using satellite technology. The video below includes an excerpt from a documentary called Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.

Hazel Dompreh is currently a Diversional/ Recreational Therapist at a nursing home in New South Wales, Australia.

Homelessness Among Older Women in Australia

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan
                                                                                 Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan

According to the 2011 Australian Census, 36 percent of the older homeless population comprises of women. While men are more likely to experience homelessness across their lifespans in Australia, women are more likely to first experience homelessness after the age of 50. Issues of homelessness among older women in Australia have been described as a symptom of entrenched social and economic issues that compound, and then implode later in life. Financial disadvantages, often caused by poor educational opportunities and/or work history may be setting the stage for homelessness among older Australian women.

Other factors influencing this problem include pay gaps between men and women (which have been noted to be as high as 17-18 percent over the span of a career), poor superannuation savings for retirement, domestic problems (such as divorce, separation, or domestic violence), personal health crises, and a lack of affordable housing. Due to many of these factors, women are more likely to experience poverty than men, which in turn can cause homelessness. These challenges are unique to women, and potential solutions may lie in addressing the structural inequalities that put women at risk in the first place.

The cost of housing has also been cited as a contributing problem, where both affordability and availability can be a challenge. Across the Australian continent, nearly 500,000 low-and moderate-income earners are unable to buy or rent homes. Women at or nearing retirement age seem to be making up a growing subsection of this demographic.

Relationship breakdowns also contribute to homelessness, as they often leave financially dependent women in a vulnerable position. According to the Housing for the Aged Action Group, 70 percent of the women seeking assistance from their organization are women living in poverty as a result of a relationship breakdown. Many of the women at risk of homelessness are facing these challenges for the first time in their lives.

The implications for homelessness among older adults can be far reaching. Older adults who experience homelessness likely do not have access to the physical and mental healthcare that is essential for healthy aging. Older homeless adults may also be at an increased risk for premature mortality. A study conducted in the U.S. found life expectancy among the homeless population to be 10 or more years shorter than the general population.

In global studies of homelessness among the aging, it has been found that contributing factors to this problem tend to be a reflection of structural issues (such as fewer job opportunities or poor housing availability) more so than personal risk factors (such as mental illness or substance abuse). In general, more work needs to be done to identify the potential causes and subsequent risks for homelessness among older adults. As a whole, there is an urgent need to advocate for preventative structural measures that can mitigate the risk of vulnerability among older adults in Australia, as well as elsewhere in the world.

Diana Kingsbury is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at the Kent State University College of Public Health.

Monthly News Roundup – January 2016

Photo Credit: Asian Development Bank

Happy New Year from Global Health Aging! Wherever you live in the world, we hope you had a wonderful holiday. December was a great month for the publication as we had a successful book giveaway among other things. The winner was from Australia and we plan to host another giveaway in the future. Last month, many topics were covered including elder safety, mobility and health, beauty stereotypes and more. Let’s take a look at what happened in December 2015!


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The Myers-JDC-Brookdale (MJB) Institute is an independent, non-profit partnership between the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Government of Israel. MJB’s research makes a difference across the entire life cycle from children and youth at risk to the elderly. The Center for Research on Aging at MJB is central to the national effort to develop policies and services to respond to Israel’s growing elderly population. In 2016, the Center is focusing on three major themes including family care for the elderly. MJB’s knowledge and expertise are increasingly sought after by Jewish organizations around the world, international organizations, philanthropic foundations, and others. For more information, please visit MJB.


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