In response, Cousins undertook a regime that included plenty of vitamin C and positive emotions – like daily belly laughs that caused watching TV shows such as The Three Stooges. To the surprise of many doctors, he made a complete recovery, published a book about the experience (the bestselling Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration, 1979) and in the process provided a wellspring of support for the notion that laughter makes for good medicine.
Now, several decades later, we are still debating the question of whether humour could be a boon to our health and even to our physical fitness. As basic as humour is, researchers still have much to learn about it – as do some comedians. Regarding health benefits, says Michael Miller an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland Hospital (Baltimore),”The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be to exercise, eat right and laugh a few times every day.”
Miller was a researcher on a study reported at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific sessions a few years back that linked laughter and an energetic sense of humour with heart health. Cardiologists at the medical facility found that people with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh at particular situations than subjects the same age without heart disease.
The former were less likely to comprehend humour or use it to get out of uncomfortable situations, the investigators found. They were angrier and more hostile. Needless to say, some of that may be a reaction to their illness; you would not expect sick people to be as jolly as healthy people. But 40 percent is a huge difference, more than you may attribute to that variable.
MORE FUNNY EVIDENCE
Another study provided further support for the idea of laughter as a beneficial mental and bodily activity. Manor Wildlife Removal researchers had 21 healthy children put one hand in cold water while they watched funny videos. The result? The kids who laughed were able to tolerate the pain of cold water longer than those who did not. Researchers also discovered that the laughing children had reduced levels of cortisol, a hormone that indicates stress.
While this study was small, and there was no control group, it lends support to the healthiness of bliss. And given that we have seen no studies indicating any negative effects of a snigger, chuckle or guffaw, it is hard to argue against the concept that a small amount of funny helps improve emotional and physical well-being.
As we integrate additional heart-healthy activities into our daily lives, we might do the same with laughter, suggest Miller. “The ability to laugh – either naturally or as a learned behaviour – may have important implications in societies where heart disease is still the No.1 killer,” he notes.
Humour will not replace exercise in the health equation, of course, but who wouldn’t sometimes prefer an episode of Friends into a gruelling cardio session? And today, humour is taken more seriously as a health factor than it was taken previously. Hundreds of professors belong to the International Society for Humour Studies.
Even though the health benefits of laughter have yet to be demonstrated scientifically, laughter may help us beat stress, which contributes to heart problems, among other maladies. We may, after all, need a daily dose of laughter along with our exercise and lean diets. So be sure to split at least a few times a day. It can’t hurt, and it may very well help. No joke.
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