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Can exercise and laughter improve your mental health?

Regular exercise is well known to be extremely good for your physical health, and has also been shown to have a positive effect on your mental wellbeing.

The benefits of exercise on mental health are thought to be in part thanks to the release of hormones called endorphins, which can make us experience positive feelings. Studies suggest that they can help reduce symptoms of depression and boost self-esteem.

But new research from Germany suggests that it’s not just how much exercise you do that’s important for mental health, but what type. The researchers studied a sport called bouldering: climbing to modest heights without ropes. They suggested that this is better than general exercise when it comes to treating depression.

So what could be the reason?

Other forms of exercise are good for depression but many types such as running or cycling still allow people to mull over their problems as they’re doing it – this is called rumination. In contrast, when you’re bouldering you have to have complete focus to avoid falling. It’s thought that this breaks the cycle of rumination as you have to concentrate on what your hands and feet are doing whilst focusing on balance and problem-solving. As a result it encourages you to be in the present moment.

Bouldering is not the only form of exercise that prompts this response. Other types that involve a similar mental focus, such as dancing, are thought to have a similar effect.

The surprising thing is… Laughter can have similar benefits!

If you have difficulty exercising, or it simply isn’t your thing, then laughter therapy is an effective alternative. Laughter, like exercise, has been shown to release endorphins. This is not simply due to laughter lifting your mood. Some studies have shown that the physical exertion involved in the process of laughing can give you some of the benefits of a light workout. The recommended amount to have this effect is 10 minutes continual laughter. This is difficult to achieve on your own without external triggers, which is why regularly attending a laughter club can help.