Preventive Maintenance: Laughter – is it really the best medicine?
December 1, 2005
We've all heard the old saying that "laughter is the best medicine." Well, it's truer than you think. Studies have proven that when we laugh, some chemicals change in our bodies that help release stre...
We’ve all heard the old saying that “laughter is the best medicine.” Well, it’s truer than you think. Studies have proven that when we laugh, some chemicals change in our bodies that help release stress. It’s true; laughter is a great coping mechanism for the normal stresses of life.
Over the past years, we’ve all learned that eating a balanced diet, exercising, eating foods low in saturated fat, and not smoking will improve your health. Maybe we should add regular, hearty laughter to that list, especially for those driving on our stress-filled roads in our stress-filled society.
This is an important point in today’s world because stress kills and the side-effects of stress hurt your body, especially your circulation.
How? Stress damages your endothelium, the protective lining of your blood vessels. This impacts your circulation because the lining is fundamental in controlling your blood vessel tone, blood flow, blood thickening and clotting.
As well, when you’re stressed, your arteries actually constrict, allowing less blood to flow through your body.
Over time, the decreased blood flow will allow fat and cholesterol to stick on the walls of your arteries. This is especially harmful in your coronary arteries because it could cause a heart attack. Since damaged endothelium is the first step in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, by keeping it healthy, you may avoid cardiovascular disease.
Outside of your circulation, your endothelium also plays a part in your general health. It secretes chemicals and other substances to heal irritations, infections and wounds. For good overall health, deal with stress to keep the lining of your arteries in tip top shape.
Laughter can help. Laughter seems to make the endothelium dilate or expand, actually increasing blood flow and improving circulation. In one study done at a U.S. university, frequent, hearty laughter improved the lining of the arteries as much as doing aerobics (without the muscle strains.) Seriously, don’t put away your jogging shorts or hang up those running shoes. Just add laughter to your fitness program. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, plus 15 minutes of laughter every day equals healthier blood vessels and better circulation.
Not only that, but a belly-laugh also gives you an internal workout. Laughter actually helps tone your diaphragm, abdomen, chest, and face muscles. And if you really get carried away, you may end up exercising your arms, legs, and back.
On top of that, this internal work-out gives you an internal massage, massaging your heart, lungs and digestive system.
Even more, laughter also releases endorphins in your brain, making you feel happy and content, similar to taking opium or morphine (but no risk of addiction or other harmful side-effects.)
Although it seems obvious that laughter is good for you, how can you take advantage of this built-in health booster when life doesn’t seem all that funny? You know what I mean. Many times you’d rather yell than laugh.
What’s so funny about being stuck in a traffic jam, or delayed at Customs? Why laugh when your tire blows and there’s ‘no service’ for your phone? What’s to laugh about as the fuel prices skyrocket? Why laugh? Because it’s good for you, even though it’s not always easy. Nevertheless, with just a little effort, you can.
To begin, figure out what makes you laugh and then look for it.
After that, here are some suggestions:
* Rent a funny movie;
* Watch a sit-com you enjoy;
* Pop in a comedy audiotape or CD when you’re driving to relieve road stress;
* Keep things around that make you laugh, such as: comics, cartoon books, calendars, and funny greeting cards;
* Hang around with people who laugh; laughter is contagious;
* Don’t be afraid to act silly;
* Play with your kids or your pets. (They like it when you’re silly.) Choose games that can bring on a lot of laughs, like Scattegories, Charades, Outburst, etc.;
* Look for humour in ordinary, everyday situations. Don’t take everything so seriously;
* Take a class on telling jokes (many community colleges offer night courses on humour), then practise;
* Make an effort to remember something funny that happened to you each day. Tell someone about it and share a laugh. Pull the memory out of your back pocket when things aren’t quite going right;
* Laugh at yourself. Maybe part of the previous funny memory is something embarrassing you did; Remember it. Years from now, you’ll have a great story to tell others.
* Make fun of what you’re afraid of;
* Go to the zoo and watch the monkeys; they’re hilarious!
* Lighten up. Life is serious, but not THAT serious. Take time to enjoy yourself.
Today’s prescription: A laugh a day keeps the doctor away (with no harmful side-effects!) It really is the best medicine!
– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.