Thursday, January 15, 2009

THINK ABOUT IT, TRY IT

LAUGH WITH YOUR FRIENDS AND LOSE WEIGHT
By Victoria Wesseler Lifestyle, Gardening, and Culinary Writer

Every once in a while I run across a bit of information that sounds just too good to be true. When I heard that a group of researchers from Vanderbilt University’s Department of Medicine announced that laughing caused people to burn extra calories, I just had to investigate it. I wondered if there could be at least a kernel of truth in their study, which hinted that laughter might be a way to lose weight. After all, studies have shown that laughter, which has been said for years to be good medicine, can enhance the immune system, reduce stress, and keep our hearts healthy. That's all great, but what could it do for my waistline? Could I laugh my way back into my skinny jeans? Before I replaced my hour on the treadmill with an hour of watching my favorite sitcoms, I thought I should investigate the study’s findings.

Turns out that the study is real and does, in fact, show that genuine laughter causes an increase in energy expenditure. The study’s methodology and results were recently printed in the International Journal of Obesity (2007) 31, 131-137. Note the use of the term genuine. The researchers say that fake laughter, such as the giggle you force out at an old joke told for the tenth time by your distant (but not distant enough) relative at a holiday dinner, doesn’t count. To be beneficial, the laughter has to be a sincere, spontaneous laugh.

If you get a chance to read the entire study, you’d probably find it pretty interesting. But I’ll cut to the chase. The bottom line is that during genuine laughter, as compared to a resting state, we expend between 10–20 percent more energy, and our heart rate is increased by the same amount. The good news is that 15 minutes of laughter can burn between 10–40 calories. The bad news is that it’s just not enough to replace even the lightest daily form of exercise or intense physical activity. But, not to be discouraged, at the end of the study’s results, the researchers note, “This amount [15 minutes per day] of energy expenditure during 1 year with no changes in other components of energy balance, may translate into an annual weight loss [of approximately 1–4 pounds of body weight], if all other components of energy balance remained unchanged.” I say that beats gaining 1–4 pounds a year!

So, we now have scientific proof that laughter is good for our figures. And, as we all know, there are few things better for eliciting hale and hearty belly laughs than time spent with your best female friends. The friendships that we have with close female friends are literally life sustaining. Numerous studies show that people who lack in friendships and are isolated from others die earlier than those who have close friends in whom they can confide and with whom they can share good times. Yet despite all their value, we have fewer friends than ever before. In June 2006, USA Today noted that 25 percent of all Americans have no close confidants in their lives. Apparently, in the face of demanding schedules and overloaded daily activities, we often place non-relative relationships at the end of our “to do” list.

Making a conscious effort to see our friends regularly is important. Whether it’s a monthly brunch, a weekly game night, or a semi-annual “ladies-only weekend at the cabin,” we have to plan and commit to nurturing and investing our time in these relationships. Every year, I hold an annual “ladies-only” party where I invite my friends and ask them to invite one or two of their friends as guests. Anywhere from 50 to 60 women show up. For 11 years the party theme was chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Guests each brought sinful chocolate desserts to share with each other. In 2005 and 2006, the theme was announced as a “Ladies Only Pajamarama and Cocktail Party.” Tiaras and feather boas were noted on the invitation as optional, but highly encouraged. My friends did not disappointment me with their attire. I had no idea so many of them owned tiaras and boas. Obviously, they were just waiting for the perfect excuse to wear them in public. Even my neighbor’s female Weimaraner dressed in full party regalia—no one could figure out how that dog kept a tiara on her head and a white feather boa around her neck all night.

Take a few minutes today to think about those wonderful women you are privileged to call your friends.

  • Where would you be without them in your life?
  • They soothe your spirit. They feed your soul.
  • They lift you up as only another person in your life can.
  • They help you through significant life passages. They are there to dry your eyes when you are defeated and applaud you when you succeed.
  • They understand you better than you understand yourself.
  • They want what’s best for you. They create a safe place to discuss your dreams and fears. They are Lucy to our Ethel; Laverne to our Shirley; Monica to our Rachel. And, maybe best of all, just when you think all is lost, they’re the ones that always give you plenty of reasons to break into a healthy, calorie-burning, genuine laugh!

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