Laughter as a Form of Exercise? Maybe

Through out the day, I’ll occasionally check on my Tweeter and ‘Book in what I like to call, “Operation: Open in New Tab”. For about 3-5 minutes, I’ll peruse my feed for headlines and articles that catch my eye.  Thanks to intellectual Friends and Followers who share the latest news, I can keep track on the recent happenings in science, politics, the arts, and of course, fitness. Last week, several friends had shared an article from New York Times ‘Phys Ed’ Columnist, Gretchen Reynolds, which was titled Laughter as a Form of Exercise“.  This was my reaction based on the title of the article:

I read the article; Same reaction as above.  I read it again, and got worse.  Two days later, sitting in a Panera across from Boston University, I read it again.  Then it clicked. I actually liked the article.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, here’s the link again:

Laughter as a Form of Exercise

The article discusses a study, which was published this year in Proceedings of the Royal Society B that seeks to answer the question “Does laughter elicit a physiological response similar to that of exercise and, if so, what might that reveal about the nature of exertion?”  In the study, scientists tested subjects pain threshold levels before and after watching a short commedy video, or dry factual one.  According to researches, pain thresholds rose after subjects watched the funny videos, but not after they watched the factual documentaries.

They postulate that the physical act of laughing, that big ol’ belly laugh where your abs start to hurt, caused endorphin levels to rise, and therefore pain thresholds to go up.  The scientists also observed greater increases when the commedy videos were watched in groups, rather than alone.  This is similar to an experiment from 2009, when researchers found that elite rowers working as a group had higher pain thresholds upon testing than those who rowed alone.

As it turns out, the article wasn’t about laughing as exercise, but as an important component of exercise.  Outside of British labratories, activities such as Laughter Yoga are becoming more popular:


You know I’m not a big fan of the Y word, but that video (and the overall concept) fascinates me.  Considering the mental health benefits of group laughter, and how they can positively impact physical health, I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to do that!  Hopefully, most of us participate in less formal group laughter as we go about our day, seeing family, friends, and coworkers as we go about our business.  When you see them, make sure to laugh, dammit!

However, one of the greatest places you can laugh is also at the gym. From the NYT article:

So if you typically run or bike alone, perhaps consider finding a partner. Your endorphin response might rise and, at least theoretically, render that unpleasant final hill a bit less daunting. Or if you prefer exercising alone, perhaps occasionally entertain yourself with a good joke.

I’m more cognizant now of the environment(s) that I’m training in, and I do my best to have a training partner or reliable spotter somewhere in the gym with me.  It makes training safer to have someone there to spot you and provide form and technique cues, but it also makes it a hell of a lot more fun.

Last Sunday night, at 9pm, there were 4 people in the gym.  Four of us, and that’s it.  It was four fella’s who take their training seriously, and for the time that we were doing our sets, things were serious.  However, for almost every break between sets, someone was dancing.


As a group, we benched, squatted, did chin-ups, reverse lunges, rows galore, and this:


I probably could have logged “Zumba” on Fitocracy, but that would ruin my street cred.  Why were a bunch of dudes trying to Dougie between sets?  Because it was fun as hell, that’s why!  I’d much rather have a fun and productive workout than a productive workout on it’s own, and based on the research on laughter and exercise, the laughter can certainly help.

I’m traveling to the University of Delaware this weekend, and on the way to Newark I’ll stop at Steve Pulcinella’s Iron Sport Gym, in Glenholden, PA.  It’s a dream world of 100lb plates, specialty bars, and chalk.  Be aware, I don’t go because the equipment is awesome.  I go because the environment is awesome.  From an EliteFTS article:

“One of the things I like to get across is this is a party, not a war,” Pulcinella said. “You don’t come here to be angry, this is the place to come when you’re happy. I’m the owner and I set the general attitude. I want to have fun. I want people to be happy in here. It’s like, ‘Let the party begin. Let’s work out.’ There’s just a really cool energy in here.”

If it was only about laughter, I’d find a Laughing Yoga group, or watch videos of cats on the internet.  I’m training because I like picking up heavy shit and want to be healthy.  That health includes mental health, and having a good time is a piece of the puzzle.  If you’re not having a good time at the gym, you’re doing something wrong.  It’s inherently fun to move around.  Seriously, your body releases lots of chemicals to trick you into loving it.  If you’re like me, that’s just an added bonus.

I’m heading off to the gym now to meet up with a training partner.  We’ll practice some agility drills, run some sprints, and bench the bench.  I can’t tell you exactly what the workout will consist of, but I can tell you that we’re going to laugh our asses off in between sets.

To fuel you from today through the rest of the week, here are two quick instructions:

  1. Schedule a workout with a training partner in the next 24 hours.  Text them, call them, e-mail them, send them a telegraph.  Make sure you train.
  2. Watch this first:


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