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How laughter improves health

The Polk County Democrat

10-26-17

“For seniors, laughter may be the best medicine to improve quality of life and health,” said Emily Perez, SLP and director of rehabilitation for Spring Lake Rehab Center in Winter Haven.

What is laughter? An online medical dictionary – freedictionary.com – defines laughter as, “A series of inarticulate sounds produced as an expression of emotion, usually happiness or mirth.

Because we laugh an average of 17 times per day, you’d think we are immune to bad health. Turns out, those who laugh 40 percent less than the average, have cardiovascular disease, reports Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

It’s been shown that the areas of brain that recognize humor are not as active in those with heart disease. And there are many areas of the brain that engage when humor comes into play.

The frontal lobe responsible for emotional outlet, the left side interprets words, the right side determines what makes a joke funny, and the brain’s limbic system is responsible for basic reactions like surprise, fear and hunger. Finally, the motor areas of the brain become active and they’re responsible for the chuckle, or the act of laughter.

When we laugh, it affects us systemically. According to Perez, here are a just six benefits of laughter:

1. Improved immune system – Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect the body by bringing more stress into the system and decreasing immunity; whereas, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses

2. Inhibits pain – A study published by Dr. Robin Dunbar, a professor at the University of Oxford, revealed that laughter had a significant positive effect on pain thresholds because it stimulated the release of endorphins that interacted with brain receptors to reduce the perception of pain. He said, “The simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, he said, trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect,” in the New York Times.

3. Cardiovascular health – Laughter dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, prevents clot formation and reduces inflammation, reported Dr. Michael Miller, the director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“The ability to laugh – either naturally or as learned behavior may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer. We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list,” said Miller in a university newsletter.

4. Memory retention – A study from Loma Linda University said laughter is beneficial for elderly patients’ ability to recall. Laughter reduces stress, say the researchers, and as one’s stress is lowered, memory improves. This has tremendous implications for older adults who may be experiencing age-associated memory deficiencies, as medical practitioners now can offer enjoyable and beneficial humor therapies for these deficiencies.

5. Improved perspective – Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations as well as decrease feelings of depression or anxiety by improving feelings of overall happiness.

6. Social connection – Certainly, laughter unites people. Many studies show that social support improves mental and physical health. Indeed, the presumed health benefits of laughter may be unplanned consequences of its primary goal, which is bringing people together.

With so many benefits, the recommendations for future well-being may one day be – exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day. While we wait for more definitive research, it can’t hurt to laugh and joke. So, a guy walks into a bar …

Spring Lake Rehabilitation Center offers comprehensive rehabilitative outpatient and inpatient services for short or long term at 1540 6th St. N.W., Winter Haven-Florida. For information, call 863-294-3055.

Articles featured in Life Extension Daily News are derived from a variety of news sources and are provided as a service by Life Extension. These articles, while of potential interest to readers of Life Extension Daily News, do not necessarily represent the opinions nor constitute the advice of Life Extension.