Nothing will exercise your internal organs like a great belly laugh. I Love Lucy and Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello are responsible for making me laugh so hard that my body ached. Because of this, I cannot help but think that laughter is a very important part of the intersection of physical fitness and positive psychology.
According to a good friend, one of the most important coping skills of aging is maintaining a good sense of humor, particularly the ability to laugh at oneself. She proceeded to tell me a story about her mother who is a very beautiful, dignified, healthy woman in her 80’s who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She went to a beauty salon and for fun tried on a blonde wig. My friend could hear her giggling and laughing along with others. Out swung her mother showing herself off in this blonde wig. This was so unlike her mother that it was very funny.My friend also told me of another friend, a retired priest, who was lamenting that he couldn’t remember the words to the Our Father prayer, even after saying it multiple times a day for more than half a century. Then he realized that if he said the prayer quickly, he could recall the words, but if he slowed down, he would go into a contemplative prayer state (similar to meditation), and the words would escape him. He just sat there and giggled over this memory lapse. He too has Alzheimer’s disease.
My friend believes that because her mother and her retired priest friend have adopted this attitude, they are coping much better than expected with the devastating losses of Alzheimer’s Disease. Barbara Fredrickson confirms that adopting a more optimistic, playful attitude to problems over which you have no control improves your coping and your longevity. Interestingly enough, the same mood-improving brain chemicals that are activated in exercise are also activated through Fredrickson’s positivity practices.
Research conducted in Japan recently showed that infusing an exercise program for the elderly with laughter led to greater adherence and greater psychological and physiological health benefits than have been cited in other studies. The participants were 60 and older. They all participated in a weekly exercise laughter program lasting 120 minutes for 10 consecutive weeks. The study showed several health benefits from laughter, including improved mood, immune system, and vascular functioning as well as reduced stress. Participants reported that they felt better. As a result of the great enjoyment, adherence to the exercise program was high.
Restorative care is provided to seniors, often in nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities, to help them recover from various medical conditions. It is designed to help them regain functioning and enhance capabilities so that they may live as independently as possible. I think it’s important to include this restorative care perspective so that those who have experienced setbacks can see hope and have some direction in regaining abilities that may have been lost through deteriorating conditions, chronic disease, surgery, or broken bones.
Everyone, seniors and care providers, needs movement, good food, and positive energy to be able to enjoy the present moment in life. Despite media focus on the benefits of exercise and eating well for well-being and health, many do not comply. Seniors are no different from the rest of us in this regard, lacking motivation to take the steps that preserve health.
My friend Sharron Brigman who is a Restorative Care therapist says,
Following are Sharron’s insights and commentary on Restorative Care. I invite you to visit her web page for more information.
“We need to give them motivation. We need to understand them as people. We need to change our approaches and we need to let them do for themselves as much as they can. We need to change our terminology. Restorative Therapy does just that!”
- Restorative therapy offers a person choices. It offers reasons that make sense to the person, and it is done with techniques that are attainable by the person.
- Restorative therapy is done on a goal base, then applied in steps made accessible for the person to reach.
- Restorative therapy uses terminology that makes sense to the person. It offers support and understanding of the health challenges the person may be facing, and most important, it is a partnership between the senior and the care provider.
- Restorative Therapy involves looking at what a person can do now, and only then considering how to maintain or improve his or her functional level.
Exercise works not just because it is good for them, but also because it makes sense to them! Restorative therapy gives control back to people. We can help them be the people they want to be through good food, exercise structured for their needs and goals, and positive energy.
This five part model of exploration and application that I’ve called Comprehensive Geriatric Fitness was inspired by the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness training implemented within the U.S. Army. Given the challenges and many obstacles that elders and their caregivers face on a daily basis over the years, this model offers ideas for prevention, maintenance, and restoration.
The model is based on sound research in positive psychology and health physiology, albeit much of it done with the general population. While all of it is done with a focus on optimizing resiliency, positivity, and building upon inherent strengths of clients and caregivers, more age-specific research is needed.
It is my wish that people see the value of positive psychology research and practice specifically targeting the elder population and the people who care for them. We are in unprecedented time in history with the population worldwide growing steadily older. May we all grow, not only older, but also wiser and stronger, leading fulfilling and thriving lives. May we live in service to others, until we become recipients of the same quality of care ourselves.
Editor’s Note: Physical fitness is the last topic of Diana Boufford’s series of articles describing Comprehensive Geriatric Fitness. She has so much information to share on physical fitness that we’ve divided the article into 3 pieces: this one on exercise, an earlier one on food, and one to follow on laughter and restorative medicine. Other articles in the series cover the overall topic of Comprehensive Geriatric Fitness, as well as the other types of fitness:
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Martin, R. A. (2006). The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. Academic Press.
Mayumi Hirosaki, M., Ohira, T., Kajiura, M., Kiyama, M., Kitamura, A., Sato, S., & Iso, H. (2013). Effects of a laughter and exercise program on physiological and psychological health among community‐dwelling elderly in Japan: Randomized controlled trial. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 13(1), 152-160. Abstract.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2009). Several approaches can help motivate cognitively impaired nursing home residents to participate in restorative care: Research Activities. Abstract.