Humor and healthy aging

Sunday Signal

By Mary Petersen

Signal Staff Writer

I received my second Covid vaccine a week ago. It’s hard to imagine that a full year has passed since we began this Covid journey. A year ago, there was no talk of vaccines. I knew no one who knew anyone who had Covid. At that time, jokes about Covid abounded, like these from 

Today’s Weather: Room Temperature.

Anyone else’s car getting three weeks to the gallon?

Never in my life would I imagine that my hands would consume more alcohol than my mouth.

Why don’t ants get Covid? They have tiny little anty bodies.

There was so much quarantine humor that comedians quipped, “We may be in the middle of a pundemic.” 

As life became grimmer and staying at home became a necessity, our patience and our sense of humor wore thin. As people experienced depression, anxiety and loneliness, it was hard to laugh, sometimes even smile, or find any humor in each passing day.

Obviously, the worldwide pandemic that has engulfed us is no laughing matter. But there is an essential place for humor in our lives. Humor is an important coping mechanism that can see us through challenging situations and make them feel less threatening. Laughing helps us to gain perspective, build resilience and feel balanced again. Laughing is a temporary reprieve from stress and anxiety. It’s a catharsis that resets our psyche and elevates our mood.

The older we get the more important humor is. A strong link has been found between good health, longevity, and smiling. In one study on humor and aging, when asked to describe what constitutes successful aging, elderly subjects mentioned a sense of humor as one of the most important virtues. Research has shown that laughing stimulates several positive physiological changes in an older person’s body. It releases endorphins, the feel good hormones. Laughing also lowers blood pressure and increases antibodies that boost the immune system. It relaxes muscles and provides pain relief. 

A dose of humor also promotes good mental health and has a beneficial effect on some of the most common health concerns of aging. It decreases stress hormones like cortisol that impair short term memory and learning ability. Humor is also a great workout for the brain since interpreting a joke requires abstract reasoning. Researchers say that even the lowly pun requires the brain to shift perspective. A good laugh helps us stay positive and approach aging with its challenges in creative, inventive ways.

How do you know you’re old? You stop searching for the meaning of life to focus on searching for your car keys!

What goes up but never comes down? Your age!

But keeping our sense of humor as we age helps us cope with changes and unexpected obstacles. So have a belly laugh at ridiculous pet videos or watch a decades-old TV sitcom. Let’s share funny stories with friends, tell cringe-worthy jokes, play games and laugh at ourselves. As the familiar quote states, “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old; you grow old when you stop laughing.” 

Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, a 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor. 

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