Bendigo Laughter Club a happy and healthy way to start new year

Armchair historians are already maligning 2016 for the frequency of its celebrity deaths and the controversial results of its elections.

But for people who have found the past 12 months tumultuous, there is a Bendigo community group offering a free and easy pick-me-up to start the new year: laughter.

The Bendigo Laughter Club will continue to giggle its way through 2017, with the first of the year’s weekly sessions set for this Saturday morning. 

The group meets in Ewing Park on Williamson Street, Bendigo, from 8.30am. 

Christine Curnow, who runs the group with husband Ken, said a morning laugh put her day on a positive path. 

“Once we started, we kept going,” Ms Curnow said. 

“Being happy is a wonderful thing.”

2017 is the group’s 17th year in existence, with organised laughter once so popular in Bendigo, there were two clubs dedicated to its practice.  

The series of light physical exercises – Ms Curnow said one involves participants flapping their arms and laughing like kookaburras – is actually a form of yoga that originated in India two decades ago. 

Despite its comical appearance, the Saturday morning chuckle club was an especially important opportunity for people who might be feeling sick or isolated, Ms Curnow said. 

Bendigo doctors have even recommended the group to ailing patients, and the Bendigo leader runs workshops for people living with debilitating illnesses like fibromyalgia. 

“The body can get the benefits of feeling happy,” she said.

“It’s about being with other people.” 

Laughter might not always be the best medicine, several studies have revealed its health benefits. 

The movement of facial muscles sends signals to the brain, causing it to release endorphins and serotonin, while other hormones that reduce stress are activated during the physical activity. 

There is even a word for the study of laughter: gelotology.

Start the year with small steps: expert

The state’s peak body for health promotion is telling Victorians standing by their New Year’s resolutions does not have to be a chore. 

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said while people sometimes find it challenging to live up to the promises they made themselves, small changes were the easiest to achieve. 

“It’s so true that being healthy is easier said than done,” Ms Rechter said.  

People often put a lot of pressure on themselves to stick to New Year’s resolutions which can at times seem overwhelming,” Ms Rechter said.

“Setting modest goals with a view to increasing those goals over time, like walking an extra block each day, can make major differences to our health and wellbeing in the long term.”