Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Benefit is in the laughter, not the joke




By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When experts talk about humor and laughter, they point out the two are distinct concepts:

        • Humor is individual. Two people might disagree on what they find funny.

        • But laughter is a physical act that's universal — and healthy.

        “The research that substantiates gains in physical health or healing are almost exclusively based on laughter,” says Steve Wilson, co-founder of the World Laughter Tour in Columbus. The company sponsors seminars and clubs in which participants get together and laugh.

        “What the researchers are doing is they're measuring different physical things like heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension,” Mr. Wilson says. “They're measuring digestive enzymes, they're analyzing blood content for immune factors, things that inhibit healing or help healing.

        “And they're doing that based on the fact that they've got people laughing. The researchers are in my mind, indicating that laughter plays a significant role not only in helping to heal physical illness but to prevent physical illness.”

        Among laughter's benefits:

        • Reduction of stress hormones, including cortisol, which in turn enhances the immune, cardiovascular and even digestive systems.

        The University of California Irvine study showed that patients who watched a one-hour humorous video produced fewer stress hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine, which in turn strengthened the antibacterial and anti-viral capabilities of their immune systems.

        Researchers tracked patients' moods before and after they watched the videos. Even two days before the videos were shown, patients reported lower levels of tension, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion.

        Researchers at the University of Maryland found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.

        The findings led researchers to conclude that laughter should be part of a daily health routine — just like exercise and healthy eating.

        • Mental and emotional stimulation: Humor is based on incongruity. Recognizing the skewed take on reality stirs up the brain and positive emotions.

        • Interaction: Laughter is, for the most part, a social act. We listen to, or tell, a joke, or watch a funny film and share the response.

       



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