Running on plenty
A round-up of today's other stories in brief
Races of the week
We’re big fans of the Business Houses Athletic Association, which always has well-organised, well-priced and good-humoured events. The Cork branch has a road race on Sunday, the HSE 4 Mile, starting on the Marina. For details see corkbhaa.com. If you’re a regular runner, then membership of the BHAA is well worthwhile. For 2012, it was €10 and then €5 for each of the many races organised. Even for non-members, it’s excellent value at €8 a race.
Elsewhere on Saturday, the Glendalough Trail Run is a 15km trail run in aid of the Fighting Blindness charity. There’s a €25 entry fee, and minimum of €50 has to be raised for the charity, but it is a good challenge; and if the weather holds, it will be a good one to blow away any autumn blues. glendaloughtrail.com
Guffaws at the gym - study shows laughter may be the best exercise
IS LAUGHTER a kind of exercise? That offbeat question is at the heart of a new study of laughing and pain that emphasises how unexpectedly entwined our bodies and emotions can be.
For the study, which was published this year in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B ( rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org) , researchers at Oxford University recruited a large group of undergraduate men and women. They then set out to make their volunteers laugh.
Most of us probably think of laughter – if we think of it at all – as a response to something funny; in effect, an emotion. But laughter is fundamentally a physical action.
“Laughter involves the repeated, forceful exhalation of breath from the lungs,” says Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford, who led the study. “The muscles of the diaphragm have to work very hard.”
We’ve all heard the phrase “laugh until it hurts”. That pain isn’t metaphoric; prolonged laughing can be painful and exhausting. Rather like a difficult workout.
But does laughter elicit a physiological response similar to that of exercise and, if so, what might that reveal about the nature of exertion? To find out, Dr Dunbar and his colleagues had their volunteers watch, both alone and as part of a group, a series of short videos that were either comic or dryly factual.
But first, the volunteers submitted to a test of their pain threshold, as determined by how long they could tolerate a tightening blood pressure cuff or a frozen cooling sleeve.
The decision to introduce pain into this otherwise fun-loving study stems from one of the more well-established effects of strenuous exercise: that it causes the body to release endorphins, or natural opiates. Endorphins are known “to play a crucial role in the management of pain”, the study’s authors write, and, like other opiates, to induce a feeling of euphoric calm and well-being (they are believed to play a role in “runner’s high”).