Sharing a laugh with other people reduces the risk of cognitive or physical disability by more than 30 per cent in the over-65s, a new study has found. Researchers at Nagoya University in Aichi in Japan compared laughter in a group with people the same age who laughed alone, such as when watching TV.
No definitive reason has been found as to why having company when finding something amusing might have a greater effect. Among the possible contributing factors could be that laughing with friends improves immune functions.
Yudai Tamada, lead author of the study, said: “Laughter with friends brings health benefits such as stress release, improvement of immune functions, and a sense of social connectedness.”
The potential health benefits of laughter have previously been based on anecdotal evidence and not significantly explored through science. The team at Nagoya University set out to formally examine the link between laughter in everyday life and so-called functional disability. The term refers to an acquired difficulty to carry out basic everyday tasks to live independently.
They utilised the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JGES), which has been looking at the factors that impact the health and wellbeing of adults aged 65 and above since 2010. Taking the data from 12,571 physically and cognitively independent participants in JGES and comparing it with completed surveys on their laughter habits, the researchers made their conclusions.
Three factors were taken into consideration when evaluating the laughter: the situations in which the individual laughed, the number of situations when they laughed with others and the people with whom they laughed. In the average follow-up period of 6.3 years, some 1,420 (11.3 per cent) of participants developed functional disability.
The paper published in Preventive Medicine said: “Having more situations to laugh with others or at least the situation to laugh with friends might contribute to reducing the risk of functional disability later in life.”
Even more detail emerged, as it was found that individuals who laughed while talking to friends had a lower risk of functional disability than those who laughed with family members. Despite the interesting results, the team has acknowledged that more research needs to be done to fully understand the link between laughing and a reduced risk of disability.