In response, Cousins undertook a regime that included plenty of vitamin C and positive emotions – like daily belly laughs that resulted from watching TV shows like The Three Stooges. To the surprise of many physicians, 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 to the notion that laughter makes for great medicine.
Now, several decades later, we’re still debating the question of whether humour could be a blessing to our health and even to our physical fitness. Seeing 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 couple of years back that linked laughter and an energetic sense of humour with heart health. Cardiologists at the medical centre found that people with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh at certain situations than subjects the exact same age without heart disease.
The study compared both humour and anger and hostility levels of 300 subjects, half of whom had either suffered a heart attack or undergone bypass surgery, with the other half free of heart disease. The former were less likely to recognize humour or use it to get out of uncomfortable situations, the researchers found. They were also angrier and more aggressive. Needless to say, some of that might be a reaction to their illness; you would not expect sick people to be as jolly as healthy people. But 40 percent is a big difference, more than you may attribute to that factor.
MORE FUNNY EVIDENCE
Another study provided further support for the notion of laughter as a beneficial mental and physical activity. UCLA researchers had 21 healthy kids 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 didn’t. Researchers also discovered that the laughing kids had reduced levels of cortisol, a hormone which indicates stress.
And given that we have seen no studies suggesting any negative effects of a snigger, chuckle or guffaw, it’s hard to argue against the idea that a small amount of funny helps improve emotional and physical well-being.
Just as we incorporate other heart-healthy activities into our daily lives, we might do the same with bliss, suggest Miller. “The ability to laugh – either naturally or as a learned behavior – may have important implications in societies where heart disease remains the No.1 killer,” he notes.
Humour won’t replace exercise in the health equation, of course, but that wouldn’t sometimes prefer a episode of Friends into a gruelling cardio session? And now, 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 can 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 crack up at least a few times every day. It can’t hurt, and it might very well help. No joke.
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