Is laughter a way to a healthier you?
Laughter is good for us. It has been suggested that adults only laugh 12-15 times a day while children laugh from 200 to 400 times. The message for those of us in the retirement zone (preparing for or in retirement) is: laugh more.
Can laughter heal?
The most celebrated link to laughter and healing came back in the mid-1960s with Norman Cousins, who battled a sudden-onset case of an unidentified, crippling illness (thought now to be post-streptococcal reactive arthritis). He attacked the problem with huge doses of Vitamin C and humour on film.
He reported, ‘I made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, [Ellen (his wife) and I] would switch on the motion picture projector again and, not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.’
He recovered and lived for another 26 years—until 1990.
Not to be a wet blanket, but psychologist and anthropologist, Gil Greengross, suggests in Psychology Today that, ‘Most of the assertions about the health benefits of humour and laughter have limited scientific ground and are based on unfounded research.’
He says there’s a ‘dearth of good research to support the exaggerated claims. Most effects on health are short lived, and people sometimes confuse the enjoyment of humour with its health benefits’.
On the other hand
Nina Radcliff, in her report, makes the point that laughter can put a ‘damper on the production of stress hormones’. And it releases endorphins—natural pain killers and mood boosters in the body.
It also helps you lose weight, she says. The International Journal of Obesity noted that 15 minutes of laughter burns up to 40 calories. 15 minutes a day for a year—depending on the intensity of the laughter, of course—could add up to weight loss of four pounds (1.8 kilograms).
The Washington Times created a list of laughter advantages. Among them are:
- Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves 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 immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
- Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
- Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.
- Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humour outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable among those battling cancer.
There are health benefits
Even Greengross concedes: ‘There are a few good studies that show health benefits of humour, especially in relation to stress. Humour and laughter are good for reducing stress (at least temporarily), and less stress is associated with helping fight all sorts of adversities in life.’
However, he adds that it ‘does not seem to give any long-term benefits’.
That’s reason enough to make sure we laugh often.