Laughter is the best aerobic exercise

When's the last time you did it? Was it earlier this morning? Yesterday, perhaps? Not for a week or more you say? Oh dear.

Laughing — make that a hearty, from-your-gut laugh that leaves you breathless and exhausted — can be life-saving. Aerobic ewxercise in its grandest form. Some experts say it has more curative possibilities than many medications.

One useful website ( puts it this way: "The sound of a roaring laugh is more contagious than any cough, sniffle or sneeze and triggers healthy physical changes in the body."

Laughing strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy level, distracts you from any pain you may be feeling and provides a release from stress. "Nothing works faster and more dependably to bring your mind and body into balance."

I was shopping with my daughter-in-law this week, and we were in one of those stores that has multiple rooms filled with decorative, new-old stuff that contains, as my husband phrases it, "nothing we can't live without." In the illustration that follows you will see that, in this case, he is wrong.

I dispensed my 8- and 11-year-old granddaughters to find the most unique and interesting object in the store — not for purchase, but as a sisterly competition. In retrospect, I should have offered better criteria.

The winner was the 8-year-old's discovery of a larger-than-life mannequin with a sultry "come hither" look, relatively few clothes and chips in all the wrong places.

There were lots of the wooden "Keep Calm and Carry On" signs that have become so popular lately. Next to one was another sign that said, "Now, Panic and Freak Out."

My daughter-in-law, a middle-school teacher who this year had a class of more than 30 rowdy seventh-graders, saw those words and started giggling. Truth be told, she did more than giggle, she chortled and hiccupped and doubled over repeatedly in spasms of laughter. When another customer looked over at her curiously, she said, "I'm a seventh-grade teacher!" and pointed to the signs. And when she did that, she started laughing all over again. Everyone around her lost their composure, just a little, in response to her merriment. It was a good thing. The best part was at the end when she said, "Gosh, I feel so much better."

What makes us laugh can be fairly personal. The antics of babies and small children, happily frolicking pets and quick-witted late-night comedians are pretty good bets.

What always makes me laugh (and as I write this, I realize I'm long overdue for a dose) is an old "Bob Newhart Show" soundtrack. He is the TV comic who started out as an accountant, reportedly with the work ethic, "That's close enough."

After a well-advised career change, he became a comedian, and his shtick was one-sided conversations, always done in a gently irreverent, slightly stammering manner. There is one segment in particular I remember vividly. It's called "The Driving Instructor" (you can listen to a recording of it at

No access to the Internet? No worries, here's a quote from the now 84-year-old Newhart that should make you smile out loud. At least, it worked for me. "I still feel 30, except when I try to run."

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or

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