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There is no better time for laughter

NIAGARA, Wis. — There is no doubt that we are living through a very difficult time in our nation’s history so the headline for this week’s column may seem to be poorly timed — almost disrespectful of the challenges and sadness facing so many people across our country. Yet, research shows — and for many of us, our own experience has also proven — that laughter in the face of adversity is not only emotionally good for us, but is also good for our overall physical health.

If you have been reading this column throughout the 17 months I have been writing it, you also know by now that my husband is the funny one in our relationship while I tend to have a more somber view of life. While his sense of humor has served us well for nearly 50 years, it has been absolutely essential in this age of COVID-19.

For as long as I can remember, I have always taken a serious approach to life. I attribute it to being the first born of four and taking on a lot responsibility from a young age. I was put in charge of my siblings beginning with the summer I turned 10-years-old — my brother was eight, and the twins had turned six. Once they were in school all day, we managed without a full-time babysitter. So, I was in charge from the time we got home from school until our mother got home from work — about an hour and a half. She was always just a phone call away and had very understanding bosses so we could call her at work. Summer vacations were the most challenging. There were eight full hours during which my siblings could cause mischief, and they took full advantage of that situation! Having responsibility makes a person grow up quickly.

Additionally, the normal personality traits of a first born are big contributors to a more serious view of the world. Perfectionism, a need to plan, hard-working, achievement-oriented, a preference for low risk activities and a penchant for following the rules all contributed toward making me seem a lot more grown-up than I actually was at the time. And I was a natural born worrier.

Then, I met my husband — a fun-loving middle child with an older brother and two younger sisters. I used to call him and the sister closest in age to him the “two rebels in the middle.” He was no slouch in the hard work department, and he was very responsible, but he definitely knew how to have a good time. He also did not believe in curfews, and eventually made believers out of his parents who simply gave up trying to restrict his comings and goings to any kind of time frame.

We have approached life in opposite ways for decades, but, no matter what, he has always been able to make me laugh. Even in the direst of circumstances, he has found his way to a kernel of humor and has generously passed it along to his worry wart wife. He is the one to find the silver lining in every situation and has been the foundation rock in our family. Consequently, we have been very resilient as we have navigated life’s twists and turns together.

It turns out that all of his silliness over the years has produced a healthy atmosphere in our household. Research has shown that laughing every day has serious health benefits and can actually help a person live longer. Who knew? So… here is a list of seven rather surprising health benefits of laughter provided by Elizabeth Beasley for the Healthgrades e-newsletter.

1. Laughter burns calories and tones muscles. Ten to 15 minutes of laughter each day can burn up to forty calories. So, you could burn up to 240 calories by watching a ninety-minute comedic movie or by spending an hour and one-half with a funny friend or spouse who has a knack for making you laugh. If you laugh long and hard enough to make your stomach hurt, it can also tone your abs! It turns out that a good “belly laugh” engages your diaphragm muscles and your core.

2. Laughter is good for your brain. A study at Loma Linda University in California found that a group of older adults in their 60s and 70s had much better memory recall after watching funny videos. Those who laughed had a 43.6% improvement in their memory recall abilities than participants who sat quietly prior to the test. So, keep reading the comics and telling funny stories and jokes … it will help you remember where you put your glasses.

3. Laughter lowers cortisol. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol can do a real number on your mind and body. Studies have shown that people who laugh and enjoy humor have lower levels of cortisol. And a lower level of cortisol helps to keep blood sugar levels low, reduces inflammation in the body and promotes better sleep.

4. Laughter protects against heart disease. A good laugh works wonders for your circulation and the amount of oxygen in your blood stream. The act of laughing immediately boosts heart rate, respiratory activity and oxygen consumption. This uptick in activity is followed by muscle relaxation and a decrease in cardiovascular activity. Consequently, your heart and lungs get a workout that keeps your blood pumping smoothly, lowers blood pressure over time, and helps prevent cardiovascular disease.

5. Laughter boosts natural “killer cell” activity. Laughter’s stress-reduction power helps improve the natural “killer cell” activity in our bodies, which can increase resistance to disease and improve the health of those who have cancer or HIV disease. “Laughter yoga” and humor therapy — in which participants initiate voluntary laughter — have become a popular treatment for cancer patients and those with immune system disorders. Laughter also boosts mental health and coping skills. When faced with disease, humor can add a humanizing element to treatment protocol and boost spirit and mood. A little silliness goes a long way in disease prevention and treatment. On a day-to-day basis, laughter can also ward off a simple cold or the flu.

6. Laughter enhances mood. Laughter yoga has become popular over the last few decades as a way to improve mood and self-esteem while reducing anxiety and depression. Instead of chanting “om,” laughter yoga coaches go for the giggle to release the endorphins that make participants feel good all over. You do not have to find something that is actually funny to get these benefits. Just making a laughing “ha-ha-ha” sound moves the diaphragm and gets the body’s blood and oxygen circulating. Laughing with a group soon becomes contagious and eventually real laughs take over to raise the happiness level, and health benefits, of the entire room.

7. Laughter has almost no negative side effects. Today we have many effective medications and treatments available to help heal our bodies, and more pharmaceuticals are being developed every day. But the benefits can come with negative side effects. Fortunately, when laughter is included in a wellness routine, those laughs have little risk of a negative impact. One word of caution: hearty laughter can be an asthma trigger. If you have a breathing disorder, such as asthma or COPD or even allergies, keep an inhaler handy when you are around friends who make you laugh.

Now you have been given a prescription that is totally free… put it to good use, and let a little laughter into your life each day. If, like me, you need a little help in the funny department, make an effort to lighten up. Start with the laughter yoga described above to get you going. If, like my husband, you have a built-in sense of humor, please do not hesitate to spread it around. Right about now the rest of us need a boost from your funny bone.

——

NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus will not be published this week in an effort to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts. Group games are being substituted with individualized activities residents can do in their respective rooms.

Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways. YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers have also been closed to any center-based activity. Until they re-open, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. Meals continue to be delivered. Some centers are also preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers who are either preparing take-out or providing home delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers all listed below.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curb side pick up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and Brussels sprouts.

Tuesday: Chicken pot pie.

Wednesday: Salmon, fried potatoes and baked beans.

Thursday: Philly cheese steak casserole and carrots.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chicken stuffing sandwich, peas and applesauce.

Tuesday: Polish sausage, sauerkraut, noodles and green beans.

Wednesday: Creamy garlic chicken, mashed potatoes and corn.

Thursday: Italian soup, carrot salad and dinner roll.

Friday: Ham and cheese pea salad and chips.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Blueberry French toast bake, sausage and hard-boiled egg.

Tuesday: Ham, mashed potatoes and corn.

Wednesday: Stir fry, salad and bread.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Baked fish, sweet potato fries, baked beans and applesauce.

Tuesday: Pasties with gravy, coleslaw, fruited Jell-O and chocolate chip cookies.

Wednesday: Liver and onions or chicken breast, parsley potatoes, tossed salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, fruit and birthday cake.

Thursday: Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli, fruit and cake.

Friday: Taco tater tot casserole, biscuits, beet salad and Mandarin oranges.

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Now open with limited seating 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Home-delivered and/or takeout only on Thursdays. Menu for week —

Monday: Fish, macaroni and cheese and mixed vegetables.

Tuesday: Chili and corn bread.

Wednesday: Chef salad and hard-boiled egg.

Thursday: Parmesan chicken, noodles, green beans and bread stick.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick-up — people must call ahead and wear a mask when picking up. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chicken divan over noodles, broccoli, fruit, juice, milk, bread and dessert.

Tuesday: Porcupine meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and carrots, fruit, juice, milk, bread and dessert.

Wednesday: Noon — Pork chop suey, rice, stir fry vegetables, fruit, juice, milk, bread and dessert; 5 p.m. — Barbecue ribs, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and dessert.

Thursday: Lasagna, winter blend vegetables, garlic bread, fruit, juice, milk and dessert.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Stuffed shells, green beans, garlic bread and apricots.

Wednesday: Philly steak and cheese sandwich, pea salad, chips and banana.

Thursday: Chicken stir fry, rice, carrots and Mandarin oranges.

Farm to Family Program

The food box pick-up schedule (watch for upcoming schedule for other locations) —

— Crystal Falls: 11 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 22, Crystal Falls Senior Center;

— Iron River: noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 22, Iron River Senior Center parking lot.

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