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Laugh your abs off

October 28, 2018 GMT

Two bats are hanging upside down on a branch. One asks the other, “Do you recall your worst day last year?” The other responds, “Yes, the day I had diarrhea!”

Teacher: “Name a bird with wings but can’t fly.”

Student: “A dead bird, sir.”

Did you laugh at those hilarious jokes — OK, funny jokes — OK, somewhat funny. If so, you just got a little workout for your brain and body. Those who study laughter, known as gelotologists, have discovered that laughter is a complex circuit running through many parts of the brain and may be a relaxation technique after a fight or flight situation turning off stress hormones.

Laughter also increases the cells that destroy tumors and viruses. But here is the kicker — it is estimated that a burst of laughter that involves about 100 single laughs is equal to 10 minutes on a rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike, i.e., 100 haha’s is equal to 10 minutes of rowrow’s, making it a mini cardio session.


What did the fish say when it swam into a concrete wall? “Dam!” (I just gave you a workout opportunity!)

Laughing can be an excellent ab workout. A 2014 research study published in the “Journal of Motor Behavior” measured the activation of trunk muscles during laughter yoga in comparison with crunch and back extension exercises.

The crunch was a typical abdominal crunch and the back extension was performed lying on the stomach and lifting the upper body and legs off the floor. Laughter yoga is based on the idea that our bodies know how to laugh via a mind-body reaction, which somewhat correlates to the process described by gelotologists. The laughter begins as fake until it becomes real.

The muscular activity during laughter yoga exercises was measured by recording the electrical activity of muscle tissue of five trunk muscles including the internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis, aka, the “six-pack,” and the multifidus and erector spinae of the back.

Results showed that the internal obliques worked 150 percent more than the crunch. The back muscles and the rectus abdominis were nearly half of the crunch, and the external obliques were comparable with the two exercises.

(Laughing: A Demanding Exercise for Trunk Muscles; Wagner, Rehmes, Kohle and Puta, 2014),

A screwdriver walks into a bar...The bartender says, “Hey, we have a drink named after you!” The screwdriver responds, “You have a drink named Stanley?” (Just lightening the mood.)

One of the main functions of the internal obliques is to support the abdominal wall while exhaling as they contract the muscles along the ribs. When we laugh, our diaphragm, internal obliques and transverse abdominis, which is the deepest abdominal muscle, contract and force air up into the larynx, i.e. the “voice box.”


The larynx surrounds the vocal cords and controls pitch and volume necessary for phonation. Above our vocal cords are a set of “false cords” that protect your vocal cords when you swallow water or food.

When we laugh, air travels through the vocal cords in waves and the false cords pulsate out allowing these waves to pass through, giving laughter that familiar cyclical rhythm. Thus the internal obliques must work very hard during laughter, defeating those dreadful crunches.

When we are too stressed to laugh, cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” increases. The rising cortisol raises insulin levels causing sugary and fatty food cravings and, in turn, weight gain. Also when we are stressed, the desire to exercise diminishes further, leading to muscle loss and increased body fat.

I couldn’t figure out why the baseball kept getting larger. Then it hit me. (Get it?)

This all means laughter can decrease stress, work your abs, kick up the heart rate and, if you are like me, make you snort. Count me in.

Helium walks into a bar and asks for a drink. The bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve noble gases here.” Helium doesn’t react.

Sherrie Hebert is a certified personal trainer and Pilates mat and equipment instructor with Gold’s Gym and her business, Performance Pilates. As an established Idaho State Journal columnist, she has provided health and fitness information and guidance to her readers for over four years who LAUGHS A LOT.

Contact her at 208-317-5685 or and visit her Facebook page, Performance Pilates.