Monday, April 26, 2010

In our culture people are obsessed with having the perfect figure, losing weight, staying healthy. You would be pretty hard pressed to find a single woman's magazine cover that doesn't sport the phrase (pun completely intended) "2 minutes to flatter abs!" or "15 reasons you're not losing that weight (and what to do about it!)" or "Tasty recipes that won't ruin your waistline". Basically each of these articles recycles the same tips, exercises, facts and recipes and just re-polishes them with new headlines and glossy photos to make them seem new and exciting. Seriously, don't we all know by now that many small meals a day is better than 2 or 3 large ones? That eating too late at night contributes to weight gain? That strength training will not make you look like a bodybuilder so women shouldn't shy away from it? That many hidden calories are in what you drink rather than just what you eat? That there's no such thing as "spot reducing" by targeting a specific muscle when you exercise? That watching TV during meals encourages us to eat more? (Shall I add yet another example? I could keep going... don't worry, I'll resist the urge.) Yet they package all of this up as new information and send it our way. And of course we eat it up. Once again, pun intended.

Well, I just found a bit of "new" research that threw me a bit off track. The headline of this here article was "Laughter Affects Body Like Exercise". The fact that both exercise and laughter have similar effects isn't new news.... both can reduce stress, improve blood pressure & cholesterol, strengthen the immune system, and blah blah etc., etc... It's one of those facts that magazine editors like to throw in to a couple of issues each year. Like I said, nothing new. But what caught me off guard was a particular study that they talked about in this article that was done to further "prove" that the effects of laughter are similar to those of exercise. One of these shared effects, they say, is a healthy appetite. Fine. Sounds good, right? Who can argue that a healthy appetite is, well... unhealthy? Listen to this...

They took two groups of individuals and showed each group one of two different videos, one was upsetting and the other, funny. While these groups were watching said videos they monitored levels for two hormones that affect one's appetite. The distressing video was the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Can't argue that that's not distressing. Funny video was stand up comedy. Stand up may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's certainly funnier than Saving Private Ryan. End result? The hormone levels of the people who watched the funny video changed as if they had participated in moderate exercise... translation: they were hungrier. So they're saying that one of the health benefits of laughing is that it makes you want to eat. Does this strike you as funny? Laughter is similar to exercise in that it makes you hungrier.... meaning you will probably eat more... and there's a good chance you're not going to reach for carrot sticks or soy nuts when taking in a funny movie.

Personally, while I know that yes, muscle weighs more than fat (another favorite fact of magazine folk), I think the main reason I gained weight rather than losing it when I was working out more regularly wasn't because I was gaining muscle... it was because I was starving after each time I exercised. And so I ate. Sure, I ate relatively healthy (after my gym trips I'd make my way to Subway to eat fresh, Jared style), but I ate SO much more food when I exercised often. I'm not arguing that exercising is a bad decision... just one that will probably lead to weight gain (so, naturally, it should be avoided at all costs. hah). But in all seriousness, isn't it slightly amusing that this study says a common benefit of laughter and exercise is that it makes you WANT TO EAT?

So, a closing word of advice... if you hate exercising, just try laughing 20 minutes a day rather than jogging. The benefits are the same. But when you take in this good dose of laughter beware of the salt and vinegar chip craving. I'd avoid Subway too. In fact, it might be easier to just avoid exercise and laughter altogether. Yeah, go with that.

 These women like to laugh between sets. After their exercise
they're going to Olive Garden for the bottomless pasta bowl.
That laughter cost their bodies at least 2 extra bread sticks.