Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter is the best medicine

Saturday, January 07, 2017

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FEELING out of sorts? Try laughing!

Some researchers think that laughter may just be the best medicine, helping us feel better and putting that spring back in our step. Laughter is a complex human behaviour and is ubiquitous among humans. It is universally recognised across cultures.

There are different types of laughter. Some types of laughter enhance communication and contribute to good will and harmony, while others may be viewed as divisive and anti-social. The most widely recognised of all laughter types is that associated with humour — mirthful laughter.


Researchers have studied laughter’s effects on the body and discovered interesting information on how it affects us. We change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure increase and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues.


The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis — a painful spine condition — found that a diet of comedies helped him feel better.

He claimed that 10 minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.


The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar. William Fry, a pioneer in laughter research, claimed it took 10 minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter.


Laughter burns calories. A study published in 2007 in the International Journal of Obesity measured energy expenditure and heart rate during genuine laughter. The researchers discovered that genuine laughter causes a 10 to 20 per cent increase in energy expenditure and heart rate above resting values. They calculated that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter could increase energy expenditure by 10 to 40 calories per day. One piece of chocolate has about 50 calories, so don’t ditch the morning walk.


Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response. Some studies have shown that the ability to use humour may increase the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells.


A study of 19 diabetic people examined the effects of laughter on their blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a boring lecture. The next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.


Laughter helps our blood vessels function better by acting on the inner lining (endothelium), causing the vessels to relax and expand — increasing blood flow. Therefore laughter is good for our heart and brain, two organs that require the steady flow of oxygen carried in the blood.

In a study of 20 healthy people, researchers at the University of Maryland reported that laughter did as much good for their arteries as aerobic activity. The endothelium regulates blood flow, adjusts the tendency of blood to coagulate and clot, and plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.


Research done by Sophie Scott, a professor at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and stand-up comic, demonstrated that when people hear the sound of laughter the brain areas that control smiling and laughing become active, that is, the sound of laughter spurred the brain to get ready to laugh and smile.

"We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy programme with family or a football game with friends," Scott has stated. "This response in the brain, automatically priming us to smile or laugh, provides a way of mirroring the behaviour of others, something which helps us to interact socially."

Laughter establishes or restores a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people. Some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together and that all the health benefits may simply result from the social support that laughter stimulates.


Many people are now laughing themselves healthy. Laughter Yoga is the brainchild of Dr Madan Kataria, who started the first laughter club in 1995. Laughter Yoga uses a blend of playful, empowering, "tension-releasing" and simple laughter exercises.

With gentle, yoga-breathing and yoga-stretching exercises, rhythmic clapping and chanting in unison, a simulated laughter turns into real laughter. Laughter Yoga is done as a way to improve health, increase well-being and promote peace in the world through personal transformation.

I had the pleasure of attending a laughter yoga session a few years ago. I laughed so much. Even now I still laugh whenever I remember that session.

Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a family physician, university lecturer and pharmacologist. She is the author of the book "A patient’s guide to the treatment of diabetes mellitus".


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