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Howlers, belly-busters and giggles: The health benefits of laughter

Forget sit-ups, weight training and running – if you want a super-fit body, just have a LAUGH.

Watching sitcoms and laughing out loud can improve cardiovascular health, increase heart rate and help weight loss, according to a new report that reviews academic research into the effects of laughter.

And people who laugh loudest and longest will get fit quickest – burning up to 120 calories an hour.

The news is bound to put a smile on the faces of over 60 per cent of comedy fans who admitted they would be giving up on their New Year diet and fitness plans by this week.

Entertainment TV channel Dave commissioned Dr Helen Pilcher and Timandra Harkness from the Comedy Research Project, an independent group that researches gelotology (the science of laughter) to compile the report.

Pilcher and Harkness have devised two fitness plans for Dave’s Laughter Workout that incorporate belly laughs, giggles and chuckles to help build a better body.

Laughter is an aerobic activity that has previously been shown to burn calories (Miller and Fry 2009). It’s estimated that 15 minutes of laughter per day can increase total energy expenditure by up to 40 calories (Buchowski et al 2007).

Pilcher and Harkness identified five different intensities of laughter, ranging from the ‘Howler’ (“intense, involuntary and uncontrollable”) to the ‘Snigger,’ where “joyful snorts signal a positive reaction to a comedy scenario”, and estimated the calories associated with each type. They went on to predict the calorie loss that could be achieved from laughing at a number of different comedy shows.

It’s widely accepted that laughter can have many positive effects on the human body, from boosting levels of ‘feel-good’ endorphins in the brain, to decreasing stress levels and dulling pain.

But research hints that laughter is also good for the cardiovascular system and can help to tone the abdominals. In one recent study (Wagner et al 2014) researchers showed how hearty laughter can activate particular abdominal muscles.

One group of muscles – the internal obliques – is actually activated more by laughter than it is by stomach crunches.

They categorised laughter into five different types and estimated the calorie-burning potential of each:

• ‘The Howler’ – flat out, uncontrollable, roll on the floor laughter can burn up to 120 calories per hour
• ‘The Belly buster’ -Hearty belly laughs can burn up to 100 calories per hour
• The Giggle – Getting the giggles can burn up to 33 calories per hour
• The Chuckle – Irrepressible chuckling can burn up to 20 calories per hour
• The Snigger – Sniggering can burn up to 10 calories per hour.
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Based on these findings, Pilcher and Harkness propose two new laughter-based weight loss regimes – Dave’s Laughter Workout.

1. The ‘Hyena’ advocates lengthy bouts of extreme laughter, and has the potential to burn an extra 130 calories per day.
To burn off an extra stone over the course of a year, the average adult has to consume around 49,000 fewer calories than normal, or expend 49,000 extra calories without eating any more.

Per day, that means you will need to laugh away an extra 134 calories.

To achieve this, you would need to do 22 minutes of howling (41 calories), 30 minutes of belly laughs (50 calories), an hour of giggling (33 calories), and half an hour of chuckling (10 calories).

As with any form of exercise, don’t forget to warm up first. Try some gentle sniggering and chuckling before you embark on strenuous belly laughs and howling with laughter.

2. ‘Shape up for Spring (Cleaning)’ recommends mixing laughter with housework to augment the calorie-burning effects of mirth.

Like laughter, housework is an aerobic activity, so it can be used to supplement the calorie-crunching effects of mirth. It’s also highly compatible with enjoying TV comedy.

They recommend 60 minutes of ironing (160 calories) + 15 mins chuckling (5 calories), 30 minutes giggling (16.5 calories) and 15 minutes of belly busters (25 calories) = 206.5 calories.

This is to be followed by 60 minutes of vacuuming (246 calories) + 15 mins chuckling (5 calories), 30 mins belly laughs (50 calories) and 15 minutes of howling with laughter (30 calories) = 331 calories.

That’s a total of 537.5 calories in just two hours, without even leaving the house or changing out of slippers. Just one week of that regime would leave you approximately 1lb lighter – and a much cleaner house.
After around a calendar month you could be 4.6 pounds (1/3 stone) lighter, more toned, fitter, and crease-free from your socks to your tea towels.

Steve North, Dave general manager, said: “We like to think that Dave’s Laughter Workout is categorically the most fun you can have whilst shifting those post-Christmas calories.

“So forget slogging it out in the gym surrounded by Lycra-clad Adonis’ and start laughing – the more you laugh, the fitter you’ll be!”

Dr Helen Pilcher said: “This report raises the joyous possibility that watching comedy shows can help you to shape your six pack by targeting internal oblique muscles more effectively than sit-ups. I definitely felt more toned after watching hours of TV comedies.”

The team also sampled multiple episodes of comedy shows on Dave in January, and went on to predict the potential calorie loss that could be achieved by watching each of them, based on the duration of each type of laughter generated on average per episode.

Taskmaster with Greg Davies and Alex Horne produced the most howlers and belly busters with a total of 32 calories-worth of laughter throughout its 45-minute duration.

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Editor at large, SalfordOnline.com