Q: I have read that laughter and having a sense of humor may help us live longer. Any truth to this? Also when is a joke about aging funny and when is it insulting? What’s your take on this? Many thanks.
A: Dear N.S:
There is some truth to what you have read about humor and longevity.
A study of more than 50,000 Norwegian men and women were followed over a period of seven years. Participants were asked how easily they found humor in real life situations and how important humor was to them. The test questions were designed to cover only friendly humor, not humor that creates conflict, is insulting or is a variation on bullying.
Study results revealed that the greater a role humor played in the participants’ lives, the greater the chances of their surviving at least until 70 years. Adults who scored in the top quarter for humor appreciation were 35 percent more likely to be alive than those in the bottom quarter.
One objection to the study was the possibility that those who had the best sense of humor were the healthiest. That proved to be untrue.
Also, increased life expectancy could not be shown after the age of 75. At that age, genetics and biological aging are more influential, researchers noted.
A follow up to this study revealed a gender difference with humor having a greater impact on women than men. Overall, researchers conclude once again that having a sense of humor protects one’s health; adults with an average sense of humor live longer than those who don’t find life humorous.
There are several reasons that laughter is associated with long life. It triggers physical responses in our body that are important for well-being regardless of age. Here are a few of those responses:
• Laughter boosts the immune system by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol and minimizing inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation has been identified as playing a role in the initiation and progression of age-related diseases.
• Laughter protects the heart and improves the function of blood vessels which can help protect against heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
• Laughter decreases blood pressure and improves blood circulation and oxygen intake.
• Laughter relaxes the entire body, relieving muscle tension and stress.
• Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relief from pain.
It’s no wonder we feel great with a good laugh.
Humor is reported to be therapeutic. The late Norman Cousins, noted author, editor, citizen and promoter of holistic healing, found that laughing at old comedy movies helped cure him of a degenerative spinal condition. He documented his experience in the book Anatomy of an Illness.
Comedians seem to live a long life. Carl Reiner is 95, Mel Brooks is 91 and Dick Van Dyke is 91. All continue to work. Bob Hope died at age 100; Milton Berle at age 93. Both Jerry Lewis and Sid Caesar died at 91 years. Charlie Chaplin died at 88.
These comedians loved their work. Many kept working into their later years with a sense of purpose. The latter likely added to their longevity.
Norman Lear, the TV producer, director, writer, activist and philanthropist, believes the true secret to longevity could be laughter. At age 95, Lear continues to work and is convinced that humor adds time to his life.
Next week we’ll discuss the second part of your question about whether poking fun at aging is funny or an affirmation of negative stereotypes.
In the meantime take a look at this recent “Saturday Night Live” parody commercial now on YouTube.com for something called “Echo Silver," a device “sponsored by Amazon and AARP” that can answer a variety of questions you ask about the weather, sports, music and more. Here’s the question: Is this funny or does it perpetuate a negative image of aging – or both?
Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMwz487yG9I
Let me know your thoughts.
Send email to Helen Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity