- By Becky Huntley
When we feel the least like smiling, let alone laughing, a good laugh might actually help. More and more research is looking at laughter's role in healing and disease prevention.
Let's look at what is being studied...and then how we can use that information to bring a little laughter and health into our everyday lives.
The Laughing Workout
A smile uses the muscles in your face. But a good belly laugh uses the muscles in your whole body as you slap your thigh, throw our head back , and laugh out loud. Your pulse goes up. You breathe by gasping while your heart is pumping more oxygen throughout your body. When the laughter dies down your belly may ache and you are left feeling exhausted ---your body just had a workout!
Dr. William Fry from Stanford University, has studied the effects of laughter for 30 years. Fry compares laughter to "inner jogging," and claims laughing 100 times a day is the equivalent of 10 minutes of rowing (Fry, 1977, 1979; Fry & Salameh, 1987).
TRY: Next time you laugh, put your hand over your heart and feel it race.
A Stress Reducer
The laughing fades away and you feel relaxed--your stress hormones were reduced. Studies by Loma Linda University School of Medicine have shown that laughter stimulates the immune system (Berk, 1989; Pelletier & Herzing, 1989).
TRY: Find the funny part of your situation. Is it the look you and your daughter exchange when you see the nurse with the crazy tattoo? The memory of the time your hospital gown flew open?
A Hearty Laugh A study at the University of Maryland by Dr. Michael Miller (2005) showed that people with heart disease tend to laugh less. Laughing protects the heart--maybe because people who laugh more have less of the mental stress that sets off a series of processes in our bodies that eventually lead to heart disease. Dr. William Fry (Stanford , 2009) and his research group described the important link between laughter and heart health. They observed that, while negative emotions were highly correlated with cardiac risk, laughing might combat that. Laughing seems to release endorphins that relax and open blood vessels.
TRY: Consciously add laughter to your days--just like you add exercise. Plan for it--get a joke a day on the internet, read a funny book, choose comedy movies. Try not to be so serious about life!
Doesn't Hurt To Laugh
Humor has been shown to help ease pain in arthritis and cancer patients (Cousins, 1979). Humor helps patients tolerate pain from the illness and from painful procedures--and generally helps to keep a positive outlook and ability to cope. Keiko Hayashi, of the University of Tsukuba, Japan, led a study where both diabetics and non-diabetics had lower glucose levels after watching a comedy show after a meal. He cannot yet explain the reason for the connection, only that it was observed.
TRY: No matter what your specific health issue, look for something else to laughabout.
The Sense of Humor
Why do we laugh anyway? Social scientists suggest that humans laugh as a group when danger has passed--it is a way of bonding together and relaxing after a stressful situation. People are 30 times as likely to laugh when they are in a social setting rather than being alone (is that why we go to the theater to see funny movies instead of watch them home alone?)
TRY: Surround yourself with people--lighthearted or funny people in particular--rather than spending too much time alone or with negative people.