Special report: Can laughter improve your health? - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Special report: Can laughter improve your health?

 As the old saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. A growing number of people are finding out that's actually true.

The benefits are so great that people across the world and here in central Wisconsin are getting together just to laugh. It's a growing trend called laughter clubs.

Now, doctors aren't looking at IF it works, but HOW laughter improves health.

At one laughter yoga class in Stevens Point, the laughter often begins a little fake but instructors actually encourage that.

"According to the science behind this, the fake laughter is just as good for your body as the real laughter," said Judi Olson, a retired high school business teacher turned certified yoga instructor.

The laughter usually grows into giggles and then turns into all out cackles.

"It was a belly laughter," said McKinzie Frank, a class participant from Stevens Point.

This laughter yoga class in Stevens Point is one of 6,000 laughter clubs across the world.

Judi Olson started it about a year and half ago.

"It makes me feel good to share it," said Olson. "When you are in a group of people laughing, I mean really laughing or fake laughing, you can't help but have a lightness of spirit."

From their toes to their fingertips this laughter as much physical as it is emotional.

"I feel like the energy in my arms is just pulsing through me," said Olson.

Doctors say laughter like that is good for you.

"It's part of overall health. Anytime we can accomplish something with a changed state of mind instead of medication, it's better for everybody," said Dr. Bill Benn, a family practice physician with Marshfield Clinic Stevens Point Center.

Grace Davidson of Stevens Point says she has noticed a change in her health since she started laughter yoga last year.

"It's the other side of that wonderful coin of life. All of a sudden you realize that the energy you might put into loss or sadness, you can put into the other part and it's just wonderful. It's better energy! It's good energy," said Davidson. "Laughter is good medicine."

So how does it work? Dr. Benn says the key is decreasing adrenaline.

"Adrenaline keeps you alive if a bear's chasing you but adrenaline is not good for your health either," said Benn.

Running from bears isn't the only thing that increases adrenaline. Life's day-to-day challenges can create that same level of stress, something residents at Wausau Manor are all too familiar with.

"A lot of times growing older isn't a whole lot of fun," said Benn. "Illnesses to deal with, losses to deal with, friends, loved ones, and things so if a laugh can get your through that, that helps make their day better also."

But people like Richard Mayhorn take aging in stride.

"As we get older of course, we do stuff even funnier you know. You have to really look. 'Holy Moses!'" said Mayhorn, a resident of Wausau Manor. "It's quite interesting to watch us as we mosey on through the twilight years."

After having a stroke, Mayhorn moved to Wausau from Milwaukee to be closer to his son. He says laughter has improved his health.

"I think it helps you relax and whatnot and when you relax, it gives your body a chance to just calm down and get into a nice rhythm whatnot," said Mayhorn.

That's why the life enrichment director at Wausau Manor tries to incorporate laughter into every activity.

"We do the trivia, bingo, we try and do laughter, and pretty much anything we're incorporating just to make people laugh because it's the best medicine," said Dawn Pechan.

Dr. Benn says laughter alone can't completely turn around someone's health. But it can help.

"I mean God gave us laughter you know, billions of years ago so there must be a reason for it. If we can tap into that, that's certainly a better way to stay healthy than having to do synthetic things that aren't always the best for you," said Benn.

Laughter certainly has fewer side effects than prescription pills, too.

"I suppose if you fall off your chair or something laughing too hard, that's always a risk, you have to be careful about that," said Benn.

It's that natural healing that these laughter clubs aim at.

"When I finish this class I feel just spiritually, physically, just relaxed, completely," said Maria Kim of Stevens Point.

Perhaps, it's the most simple form of medicine.

"I think everybody needs a little bit of laughter and joy and to be silly and playful and in our daily lives sometimes we don't get that opportunity at all," said Annie Baker of Stevens Point.

"It helps to turn things around," said Davidson.

These laughter yoga participants are proof a dose of laughter goes a long long way.

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