Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Laughter is a Great Medicine

Published:Tuesday | June 2, 2015 | 6:00 AMDr Tony Vendryes

IF YOU found a medicine that was free, and powerful, that cured many ills, and was readily available, would you not use it? Well, laughter may just be that medicine. And it's infectious, as the sound of a loud laugh can be more contagious than a groan, a cough or a sneeze.

Psychologists say laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. It can quickly bring your mind and body back into balance, lighten your burdens, renew hope, reconnect you to others, and keep you grounded. When shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy.

 

Physical benefits

 

Laughter promotes physical relaxation. A good, hearty laugh releases physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases both the immune cells as well as antibodies that fight infections. This improves your resistance to illness and infections.

Laughter releases endorphins, the body's natural morphine like chemicals. Endorphins, produced by the brain promote an overall sense of well-being and the relief of pain. Professor Norman Cousin's in his book, Anatomy of an Illness, described how he used laughter to treat a severe painful immune system disease that he suffered from.

He found that watching comedies helped him feel better and that 10 minutes of laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of the circulation and increases blood flow, which can help protect against heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems.

Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on the blood vessels of people watching either comedies or drama movies. They found that blood vessels of the group, which watched a comedy film,behaved, normally - expanding and contracting naturally. But, in the people who watched the drama, their blood vessels tended to constrict and restrict blood flow.

Blood-sugar control: One study of diabetics looked at the effects of laughter on their blood-sugar levels. After eating, the diabetics attended a dull lecture. The following day, they ate identical meals and watched a comedy. Researchers found that the group had lower blood-sugar levels after the funny movie than after the serious lecture.

 

Mental benefits

 

Laughter dissolves distressing emotions and shifts perspectives. Laughter makes you feel good. The good feeling can linger with you even after the laughter subsides. It is very difficult to feel anxious, angry, or sad when you're really laughing. Humour helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult times, disappointments and loss.

More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter can give you the courage and strength to find new meaning and hope. Even when distressed, a laugh, or even a smile, can go a long way toward making you feel better.

It can help you to see situations in a less-threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed

 

Social benefits

 

Humour and playful interactions strengthen our relationships. They trigger positive feelings and foster emotional connection. When we laugh, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against disagreements, tension and disappointment.

Laughing with others is even more powerful than laughing alone.

 

The health benefits of laughter

Physical Benefits:

- Boosts immunity.

- Lowers stress hormones.

- Decreases pain.

- Relaxes your muscles.

- Prevents heart disease

Mental Benefits:

- Adds joy and zest to life.

- Eases anxiety and fear.

- Relieves stress.

- Improves mood.

Enhances resilience, social benefits.

- Strengthens relationships.

- Attracts others to us.

- Enhances teamwork.

- Helps defuse conflict.

- Promotes group bonding.

Some scientists have pointed out that there is not enough good research on humour and health to draw strong conclusions. But we all know that laughing and being happy can make us feel better and give a boost even though science may not be able to tell why.

So, regardless of whether laughter actually improves your health or boosts energy, it undeniably improves your quality of life.

As one researcher pointed out, "if we enjoy laughing, isn't that reason enough to laugh? Do we really need a prescription?"

- You may email Dr Vendryes at tonyvendryes@gmail.com or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:20 p.m. Details of his books and articles are available on his website www.tonyvendryes.com.