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Monday, December 18, 2006

Laugh and lose weight?

How about this paper from the International Journal of Obesity:
Results: Laughter EE was 0.791.30 kJ/min (0.190.31 kcal/min) higher than resting EE (P<0.001, 95% confidence interval=0.75-0.88 kJ/min), ranging from -2.52 to 9.67 kJ/min (-0.60-2.31 kcal/min). Heart rate during laughter segments increased above resting by 2.13.8 beats/min, ranging from -7.6 to 26.8 beats/min. Laughter EE was correlated with HR (r=0.250, P<0.01). Both laughter EE and HR were positively correlated with laughter duration (r=0.282 and 0.337, both P<0.001) and rate (r=0.256 and 0.298, both P<0.001).

Conclusion: Genuine voiced laughter causes a 10-20% increase in EE and HR above resting values, which means that 10-15 min of laughter per day could increase total EE by 40-170 kJ (10-40 kcal).

Here, EE stands for Energy Expenditure and HR stands for Heart Rate. For the innumerate, the study tests whether those who are genuinely laughing burn more energy, i.e., calories, and have a higher heart rate than those who are "at rest." The sample is a whopping 45 dyads (couples) and the statistical evidence suggests that there are statistically significant differences in both energy expenditure and heart rate between those who are genuinely laughing and those who are not.

The authors extend their finding to suggest that 15 minutes of good laughter would help you lose 10-40 kilocalories per day. A kilocalorie is what is commonly called a calorie (like on the back of a box of cookies).

A couple of thoughts pop to mind. First, is the small sample size adequate for general conclusions? Second, if the results are true then Hollywood and, especially, television studios have a moral responsibility to make their comedy programming actually funny. Perhaps a politician or two might suggest that we need to susidize the comedy business, the more laughs they can generate for longer periods of time, the more tax credits the Feds will throw them, or something like that. Perhaps for the good of our society we should ban the laugh track. This would make me very happy, because I think laugh tracks are the worst thing about today's television, well, except all news speculation, er, news reports. Moreover, with actual people doing the actual laughing our society would gain the benefits of reduced girth amongst those in the studio audience.

My new hypothesis is that while the decline in smoking seems to have correlated with an increase in obesity rates, so too has the decline in the percentage of what is actually funny on Saturday Night Live correlated with an increase in obesity.

Something like:

I obtained the actual obesity numbers from the CDC, I made up the percentage of SNL that is funny. However, I am not that far off I bet. I haven't found any objective measure of what is funny on SNL, but the two shows about SNL-type shows are funnier than SNL. Watch them and perhaps you can lose a few calories.

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