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Laugh Your Way to Better Health

“Laughter is the best medicine,” goes the old saying—and researchers have found that it just may be true.

Intriguing research suggests that laughter can make you healthier! In addition to boosting your spirits, laughter can, among other things, lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol while elevating levels of "feel good" brain chemicals (endorphins). Laughing also stimulates circulation and relaxes tense muscles.

"Positive emotions, such as those that produce laughter, affect your biology," says Lee Berk, DrPH, a preventive-care specialist and associate professor of both allied health studies and physical therapy at Loma Linda University in California. Dr. Berk, who was among the first to study the mind-body effects of laughter, found that even anticipating a good laugh could raise blood levels of chemicals linked to feelings of well-being.

Laugh your heart happy

A hearty laugh can benefit your heart health as well. Researcher Michael Miller, MD, professor of medicine, endocrinology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, found that people who watched a funny movie experienced a 22% increase in blood flow. That's good news because increased circulation is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

More recently, Dr. Berk and Stanley Tan, MD, a Loma Linda endocrinologist, studied the effects of laughter on diabetes patients. Their results showed that, after two months, patients who participated in a therapeutic laughter group had higher blood levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower levels of stress hormones than patients whose treatment did not include regular doses of laughter.

Rx: Humor

A growing number of respected medical facilities nationwide have jumped on the humor bandwagon, adding laughter and humor therapy sessions to their integrative medicine programs. Laughter sessions also are finding an enthusiastic welcome in the workplace.

Do-it-yourself laughter

You can make laughter part of your day by "self-prescribing" funny books, TV shows or movies. Another strategy is to practice laughing a few minutes each day. If you feel self-conscious and think the whole idea sounds too goofy, spend time with a youngster. Kids can teach us a thing or two about lighthearted laughter. Research has found that the average child laughs about 400 times a day, but the average adult laughs only 12 times.

Published March 2012

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