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COA transforms into laugh factory

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By Laura Drinan

Hometown Weekly Reporter

“When you see somebody laughing, you want to laugh, too,” said Certified Laughter Leader, Trevor Smith, explaining that laughter is like a social glue. “It’s contagious.”

Wellesley’s Tolles Parsons Center was certainly filled with laughter at Trevor’s program, which taught seniors about the health benefits of laughter and had them participating in exercises to crack them up.

Perhaps you are wondering, though, just what it means to be a Certified Laughter Leader. Before becoming one, Trevor spent 15 years as a recreational therapist. But when he heard of the World Laughter Tour, Inc., he was immediately interested in what the organization had to offer.

Seniors participate in a laughter activity at the Council on Aging, where they are instructed in roar with laughter as they high five.  Photos by Laura Drinan

Seniors participate in a laughter activity at the Council on Aging, where they are instructed in roar with laughter as they high five. Photos by Laura Drinan

The World Laughter Tour, Inc., doesn’t train people to be comedians or teach stand-up acts. Instead, they aspire to make people laugh without the use of comedy or jokes, but through a series of activities and exercises.

“Fake laughter has the same physical and emotional benefits as real laughter,” explained Trevor, as he instructed the group of seniors to repeat the phrase, “Ho ho ho, ha ha ha.”

The seniors soon began laughing at themselves, just by the sheer silliness of the exercise. They also participated in a “greeting laugh,” where the seniors were asked to shake hands with one another and laugh hysterically.

“We’re always used to laughing at something, so the fact that we’re laughing for the sake of laughing is a different kind of behavior for all of us right now,” said Trevor. “Just give it a chance, because it will start to feel more real. It’s this whole theory around ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’”

Even though some of the seniors felt awkward and silly during the program, their laughter – whether it was fake or real – was helping to lower their blood pressure and heart rates, increase energy levels, and improve their moods.

As the group continued with exercises like giggling during the take-off and landing of an imaginary airplane and slapping their knees as they snickered, Trevor explained that laughing is a great cardiovascular exercise and can also help one to sleep better at night.

Trevor also gave the seniors a handout of tips and exercises to incorporate more laughter into their lives, recommending at least 10 minutes of laughter a day, either alone, with a buddy, or with a group.

“It’s a great way to start your day and to get energized for the day,” he said. “You’d be really amazed at how that really changes your whole day.”

The seniors also learned laughter exercises, including one in which the seniors imitated brushing their teeth and laughing, as well as chortling as they high-fived one another.

“What I like about it is seeing people relax,” said Trevor. “Sometimes people will come in here and they’ll be in a bad mood or depressed or whatever they’re dealing with at the time, and seeing them lighten up is pretty cool.”

While it may be a program filled with goofiness, it’s true that sometimes, laughter is the best medicine.

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