Your Stress Away
Laughter is the best medicine . . . . an old adage that is
gaining new understanding. Research into the physical benefits of a good laugh indicate
that blood circulation and heart rate increase and it also provides an
abdominal work out benefiting the diaphragm, thorax, heart and lungs.
Marian Community Hospital cardiac rehabilitation instructors
Lorrie Williams R.N., and Sister Kathleen Mary Smith believe that humor
is a powerful healer and encourage their class participants to lighten
the past 30 or 40 years, medical
researchers have actually studied the serious side of a good laugh.
Noted author Norman Cousins questioned that if negative emotions
produce negative chemical changes in the body then would positive
emotions produce positive chemical changes. He described in his book, Anatomy
of an Illness, an
almost anesthetic effect of ten minutes of good belly laughing provided
several hours of pain-free sleep.
Since Cousins’ initial consideration of laughter as serious
medicine, many researchers have studied the physical and emotional
effects of laughter in life.
“Many of our cardiac patients are perfectionists and are very
hard on themselves,” relates Sr. Kathleen.
“If driving themselves too hard created heart problems, then we
hope that through our cardiac rehab program and our emphasis on enjoying
life more will have a positive impact on health.”
“Sometimes patients are depressed after a heart attack or heart
surgery,” added Ms. Williams. “We
want to turn that around and encouraging patients to take themselves
less seriously and to laugh more. There
are many benefits of laughing; it reduces blood pressure, stress and
anxiety, it eases muscle tension and actually relaxes the body.
People who have shared a laugh also have an easier time
communicating with one another.”
Physical and mental health researchers at California’s Loma
Linda University monitor subjects before, during and after they view a
comic routine. Researchers
found markedly reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, that
suppresses the immune system; similar studies also found an increase in
the activity of natural killer cells, which fight infection and cancer,
as well as higher levels of the immune system regulator.
It is additionally believed that laughter releases endorphins,
the natural painkillers that are cousins to heroin and morphine.
Researchers are actually equating some serious laughing with 10
minutes on a rowing machine or 15 minutes on a stationary bike.
The heartier the laughter - particularly if it involves flailing
arms and kicking feet - the greater the benefit you stand to gain.
“This research reflects back to the Zen Buddhist belief that 15
minutes of laughter is equal to six to eight hours of meditation,”
according to Sr. Kathleen. “Our
patients are initially skeptical, but as we talk and they have the
opportunity to see improvements, they begin to break down the walls and
accept a less serious outlook.”
“Laughter and the important role it plays in our health is not
something we discuss once with patients,” outlined Ms. Williams.
“Just as humor should be part of our everyday lives, we
encourage patients to look for humor throughout their day.
Human babies begin to laugh at two or three months of age,
sometimes earlier and the rate of laughter increases until age six, when
a child often laughs three hundred times a day.
Perhaps six-year olds are the happiest, as individuals laugh less
and less after the age of six. One
study suggests that the average adult laughs 17 times a day.
“Our prescription for cardiac rehab patients is to laugh 12
times a day,” adds Sr. Kathleen.
“While some may be laughing more, if they can consciously count
12 different times they have laughed in a day, they are doing their
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