April 30, 2008
Many people don't really think of laughter as a health issue. While it may be
difficult to find things to laugh about when life is stressful or a person is facing
a difficult situation, finding humor at those times can be beneficial to one's
"Laughter and humor are two powerful tools, helping people cope and get through
threatening situations. Looking at life's situations with a sense of humor and
laughter provides perspective and helps keep things in balance when life seems unfair.
Humor and laughter are a source of power, healing, and survival. We often forget
this when caught up in the troubles and trauma of life. Bill Cosby says, 'If
you can find humor in anything, you can survive it.' ... While we are working
at surviving, laughter can help us to maintain our perspective. ... There are many
things in life that we have no control over and can't change. As long as we
have a sense of humor, however, we can do something -- such as minimize the hold
that upsets have over us. Humor has the power to turn any situation around. ...
A lot of the suffering and troubles we experience are not a result of our difficulties,
but how we view them. ... Using humor in difficult times can be one of the
smartest ways of coping with them, easing our worries, and getting on with life."
When things are at their worst, it is often difficult to find humor in anything.
It may seem inappropriate to laugh, or it may seem as though there is nothing to
laugh about. Taking time to laugh with a friend, even when things seem to be at
their worst, can not only improve a person's ability to cope with a difficult
situation, but it can also help build stronger relationships -- those relationships
can then be there to help people through even more stressful times in the future.
"[O]f all the elements that contribute to the warm atmosphere of a good relationship,
there is one that seldom gets translated into advice or even therapy, yet is something
that everyone desires and most people would like more of: Laughter. ... Laughter
establishes--or restores--a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection
between two people, who literally take pleasure in the company of each other. For
if there's one thing Dr. Provine found it's that speakers laugh even more
than their listeners. Of course levity can defuse anger and anxiety, and in so doing
it can pave the path to intimacy. Most of what makes people laugh is not thigh-slapper
stuff but conversational comments. 'Laughter is not primarily about humor,'
says Dr. Provine, 'but about social relationships.'"
While it may seem logical that laughter eases stress and is good for a person's
mental health, laughter has physical health benefits, as well.
"[R]esearchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore
have shown for the first time that laughter is linked to healthy function of blood
vessels. Laughter appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood
vessels, the endothelium, to dilate or expand in order to increase blood flow....
The endothelium has a powerful effect on blood vessel tone and regulates blood flow,
adjusts coagulation and blood thickening, and secretes chemicals and other substances
in response to wounds, infections or irritation. It also plays an important role
in the development of cardiovascular disease. 'The endothelium is the first
line in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, so, given
the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain
a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease... At the very
least, laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is
harmful to the endothelium.'"
There is a connection between laughter and healthy relationships. There is a connection
between laughter and healthy blood vessels. There is a relationship between laughter
and a healthy heart.
"'We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated
fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should
be added to the list.' [Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive
Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor
of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine] says it may be possible
to incorporate laughter into our daily activities, just as we do with other heart-healthy
activities, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. 'We could perhaps
read something humorous or watch a funny video and try to find ways to take ourselves
less seriously,' Miller says. 'The recommendation for a healthy heart may
one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.'"
Laughter can be a wonderful addition to a healthy lifestyle, but that is not to
say that it should replace other heart healthy choices.
"We change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our
face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending
more oxygen to our tissues. People who believe in the benefits of laughter say it
can be like a mild workout -- and may offer some of the same advantages as a workout....
And laughter appears to burn calories, too. Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from
Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of
calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned
50 calories. While the results are intriguing, don't be too hasty in ditching
that treadmill. One piece of chocolate has about 50 calories; at the rate of 50
calories per hour, losing one pound would require about 12 hours of concentrated
Questions of the Week:
What role can laughter play in a healthy lifestyle? How can you use laughter to
help someone through a difficult time without your behavior appearing inappropriate?
How are the mental and physical benefits of laughter related to each other? In what
ways are they not related? What can you do to help your friends and family members
understand the health benefits of laughter? How can you, your peers, and your family
members incorporate a healthy dose of laughter into your daily lives?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
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