Mental health benefits of laughter and exercise

Is laughter really the best medicine? What about exercise? As part of our educational series for Mental Health Awareness Month, we covered both things and talked about how they can improve your mental health and overall health.

We all know exercise is good for our bodies, but it is good for our minds as well, “Studies show that exercise improves mental health. Studies conflict though on whether intensity (high vs low) matters” says Dr. Margaret Eagan, a lifestyle medicine expert at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

It’s not really any specific exercise, Dr. Eagan just says to get up and move for at least ten minutes every day. She demonstrated simple movements you can do every day. She says to start with a power pose and take a couple of deep breaths, then do a simple squat using a chair just going up and down around 10 times, then hold your right leg to your chest then switch legs, and finish with one more power pose.

Dr. Eagan says that even something as simple as dancing is beneficial, “Dance has been from human evolution a means of communication: to one another, to nature, to animals, to spirits, to the universe. This sense of connectedness is one of the foundations of mental wellness. Studies have shown that dance reduces mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression and has been associated with a lower risk of dementia.”

“Watching dance, like a video on YouTube or a performance in person, has also been shown to engage our body and brain in a very similar way, as if we were dancing ourselves,” she adds.

Deb Whittaker, a certified laughter yoga leader trainer, joined us to talk about what laughter yoga is and how it can be used to improve mental health and wellbeing, “It’s not just fun but it’s a serious exercise and a unique concept whereby you laugh for 10-15 minutes heartedly. That’s when you get profound benefits of reduced stress, reduced depression, increased immune system, and many other scientifically proven benefits,” explains Whittaker.

She showed us several types of laughs, starting with a gradient laugh where you start quiet and get louder. Laughter yoga isn’t just about laughing but also paying attention to your breath as you do in a regular yoga class, “There aren’t any rules except for breathing and laughing,” adds Whittaker.

For more on laughter yoga in Denver, click here.

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