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Aging Gracefully – Take a Walk on the Laughter Side


By Lori Leath Smith

The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things. –Henry Ward Beecher

Springtime in Seaside is one of my favorite times to stroll around Central Square and the Amphitheater and even head down to the beach. The breeze rolling in off the emerald waters, mid-70s temperatures and sunshine galore offer the most pleasant of walks. And while walking is one of the most common ways to keep your waist whittled, I received a revelation while Seaside sashaying recently.

As I peacefully sauntered through Airstream Row, I heard giggles behind me. Right there, a family with small children were delighting in the new pretzels from Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs, making goofy faces at each other and just enjoying some old-fashioned fun. As I continued down the way, a line of teenagers were standing in front of Frostbites. Incredibly, they, too, were giggling and laughing with each other while waiting on their favorite flavor of shave ice. And I simply noticed.

My stride grew more determined as I circled to the back of the Airstreams. The Amphitheater, with its alluring, mildly-sloped public green, came into view, along with dozens of children and tots, all ages, engaged in various timeless activities. They were hula hooping, playing tag, licking Dawson’s swirly ice cream cones, taking photos and just, well, laughing, some hysterically, some bubbly and some just smiling. They were just having plain, old-fashioned fun.

By this time, my thought process was in motion and I went to check out the beach. As I walked through the Mohney Pavilion behind Bud & Alley’s and down the newly-built walkover there, I noticed couples enjoying the “sitting” stairs, making full use of the incredible view. Furtive glances and soft giggles indicated their enjoyment. So I continued on this quest for the sound of laughter while walking on the beach at the water’s edge. Ears open, I was not disappointed. Excited conversation, delightful cackling, chuckles and pure joy rang through.

You would’ve thought the folks I encountered had never experienced anything like this before. It seemed this day with its smiles, laughter and excitement was permeating in my ears more than my eyes, and the sounds were magnified. Common, yes. But extraordinary, too. It made me realize that Seaside is a happy place and that’s why it receives so many families and visitors year after year, now some second and third generations. Here, laughter abounds and hearts are happy.

I thought to myself, there’s a reason for the hoots and hollers. And I’d heard that good, old fashioned, boisterous laughter is healthy. And it’s definitely contagious — I couldn’t help but laugh with many of those around me while witnessing these scenarios.

In doing some research, I found out that the sound of laughter triggers regions in the premotor cortical region of the brain, which is involved in moving the facial muscles to correspond with sound and prepare to join in, according to LiveScience.

I believe the experiences that promote laughter are one of the main reasons Seaside sees such a repeat of visitors and locals. There are many to be had in Seaside, every day occurrences that promote laughter, such as surf lessons, a wine tasting at 45 Central, a “Big Boys” show or Awkward Oxen Improv Hour, The REP Theatre or Huck & Lilly. And whether we realize or not, the joy, the fun, the smiles, the cackles and the snickers, make us feel good, and ensure a “high” (the right kind). And, I believe, they’re good for us as our bodies, minds and spirits crave them over and over.

The Telegraph states that laughter is a form of communication that’s universally recognized, which suggests it has deep importance to humankind. Dr. Mercola, an osteopathic physician and New York Times best-selling author, says laughter may have occurred before humans could speak as a playful way for mothers and infants to communicate, as a form of play vocalization or to strengthen group bonds. He says, “Even today our brains are wired to prime us to smile or laugh when we hear others laughing.” He contends that the mechanisms in our brains impact breathing patterns, facial expressions and even the muscles in our arms and legs.

Laughter is good medicine, too. One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association exposed 26 people to allergens which produced allergy symptoms. They then viewed a 90-minute Charlie Chaplin film. The allergy symptoms were reduced in all 26 subjects for four hours after the video. Another study, published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, was designed to determine an increase in immune function through laughter. Tested to be healthy, 52 men watched an hour-long comedy video. They were measured for immunity markers such as T-cell counts before, during and after the video. The study showed that one hour of laughter boosted their immune function for up to 12 hours, proving that hearty laughter can lower stress and strengthen the immune system. In addition, laughter improves sleep and can reduce stress hormones, which induces optimistic feelings.

Steve Wilson, MA, CSP, a psychologist and laugh therapist, says “The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar. Combining laughter and movement, like waving your arms, is a great way to boost your heart rate.” Another pioneer in laughter research, William Fry, claimed it took 10 minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the same level as just one minute of a few hefty chuckles. These studies, and others like them, tell me that laughter can be a good antibiotic and humor can help fight germs.

Further, the most energetic, deep, rolling-on-the-floor laughter is usually experienced with friends, family or a group. These are the conclusions of Robert Provine, Ph.D., a neuroscientist who believes that laughter is far too fragile to dissect in the laboratory. Instead, he observed thousands of incidents of laughter spontaneously occurring in everyday life, and offers the results in his book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.

Dr. Provine says, “If you’re laughing, you’re far more likely to be surrounded by others. The critical laughter trigger for most people is another person, not necessarily a joke or funny movie.” He says social laughter occurs 30 times more frequently than solitary laughter. And the person you’re with has more importance than the material triggering those cackles. And interestingly, Dr. Provine found that the speaker laughs even more than the listener.

Couples benefit from laughter, too. Additional research by Dr. Provine shows that couples who laugh and smile report higher levels of satisfaction in their relationship and tend to stay together longer. Their brains become synchronized so that they are emotionally attuned and a positive emotional climate as well as a sense of connection between two people is established.

Familiarity seems to be a key component and laughter is a social signal. It disappears when there is no audience, and it binds people together; so no wonder folks find it here in Seaside — on front porches, sandy paths and gathering places that were designed so folks would take the time to speak to their neighbors and enjoy the old-fashioned comradery ensued when friends get together.

And if that’s no enough, there’s even more reason to laugh, and laugh A LOT! Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. He found out we can burn about 10-50 calories by laughing for 10 to 15 minutes — not a lot, but it makes up for the coffee creamer I sometimes try to sneak in.

Laughter is good for your memory, too. Researchers at California’s Loma Linda University conducted a study: They divided 20 older adults into two groups — one that watched funny videos and one that sat silently for 20 minutes. Before and after the session, both groups took a short-term memory exam. Ones that watched the video showed significant improvement on the post test, 43.6 percent compared to 20 percent. The video group also had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They deducted that laughter represents an enjoyable tool to help counteract age-related memory decline in older adults.

I find that kids laugh, giggle, and get tickled easily and often, but us grownups seem to have to work a little more to fit it into our daily lives. Since experts are recommending everyone getting 15 to 20 minutes of laughter a day, much like we would exercise, water and vegetables, we need to find ways to include it.

One way to get in a good laugh is to try not to laugh. Yes, you read correctly. Have you ever noticed that when you’re trying NOT to laugh is exactly the time you can’t stop? Trying NOT to laugh can be the catalyst that ensures you will laugh and laugh hard, especially in a situation where it’s highly inappropriate to do so. And since folks are more likely to laugh in the company of others, time spent in Seaside with friends, family and co-workers could be just the ticket.

Another option might be laughter yoga. An increasing number of health care centers are adopting “laughter therapy” as a form of complementary care. This form of group laughter for health is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. There’s even a Laughter Yoga University, a website and online laughter training center (laughteryoga.org). Its founder, Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from India, teaches students to laugh with special guided techniques.

I’m sure there are other creative ways we can think of to incorporate smiles and laughs into our days, even at work. Actually, a smile hasn’t left my face the entire time I’ve been writing this article. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like my job so much. Our staff likes to laugh and working in Seaside makes me smile. Folks say I even walk around Seaside with a smile on my face.

So next time you’re feeling down, need a pick-me-up or a plain ole dose of healthy, get with some friends and try not to laugh. Or take a walk on the laughter side — take a walk in Seaside. Oh, and keep your ears open.

About Scott Camp

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