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It's The Holiday Season: Make Sure to Laugh... Guest colum, "A Laughing Matter," by Amanda Lerner

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:11pm

Over this Thanksgiving weekend, I encourage you to focus less on the food and rather enjoy the people you're around. Seize this occasion to do lots of laughing. Without further ado, I'm pleased to present a compelling, well-researched article about this topic from Amanda Lerner, a fellow graduate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Guest column: A Laughing Matter by Amanda Lerner

“You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.” --Michael Pritcha

It had been a bad week. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. I’m sure you’ve got enough troubles of your own. By Friday night, I was hardly a person. I plopped down on the couch across from my boyfriend and took a deep breath. I can’t recall what triggered it, but I started to giggle. My boyfriend looked at me like I’d lost my mind and that only made me laugh harder. After a couple minutes of trying to hold it back, he couldn’t stop himself, and he started laughing, too.

We fell victim to hysterics. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Eyes squinting, snot flying, mascara running and tears streaming. I didn’t know if I was laughing or crying, but who cared? I felt so good, so free. Self-consciousness was no longer an option. The worries of the week melted away. The knot in my gut untied. Even that hangnail that had been throbbing all day ceased to exist.

Finally it seemed to be coming to an end and suddenly, The Snort. It even took me by surprise. It was off to the races again. After about 10 minutes, my jaw felt tight and my abs were sore. I felt like I did 50 sit-ups. As I started to calm down, a sense of peace and quiet washed over me. I looked up at my boyfriend – cheeks all flushed and eyes sparkling and he told me I looked more beautiful than ever. As I bathed in the afterglow, I felt more relaxed than I had in months. It was better than a good cry. That night, I slept like a baby and awoke feeling focused and refreshed.

I had spent months fasting and juicing and denying caffeine and meditating and jogging and colon cleansing and doing everything I can to forget that chocolate exists – and in one night, my life was changed? Could it be? Is it true?

Is laughter really the best medicine? I did a little research that I’d like to share with you.

10 Reasons why Laughter is Good for your Health

1. Lowers Blood Pressure
Numerous studies show that people who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases, but then it decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper, which sends oxygen enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.

2. Protects the Heart
A cardiologist in 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. They generally laughed less, even in positive situations, and they displayed more anger and hostility.

3. Reduces Stress
It has been scientifically proven that stress has some connection to more than 70% of illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, frequent coughs and colds, peptic ulcers, insomnia, allergies, asthma, menstrual difficulties, tension headaches, stomach upsets and even cancer. Laughter is proven to reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and can turn around the negative effects of stress.

4. Alleviates Pain
Laughter alleviates pain and gives a sense of well being by releasing endorphins, the body’s painkiller hormones. In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, patients were told one-liners both after surgery and before painful medication was administered. Those exposed to humor perceived less pain when compared to patients who didn't get a dose of humor as part of their therapy.

5. Elevates Mood
Laughter has been found to help address symptoms of depression and anxiety by boosting the production of serotonin, a natural anti-depressant. You cannot feel irritated, hopeless, or resentful and
experience humor at the same time.

6. Provides a Workout
Laughter provides a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, shoulder and back muscles. A good session gives an excellent internal massage to the digestive tract and enhances blood supply to important organs. A Vanderbilt University study showed that a daily laughter workout of 15 minutes can burn 40 calories and melt away 4 pounds over the course of a year. That's why you often feel exhausted after a long bout of laughter - you've just had an aerobic workout!

7. Enhances Youth and Beauty
Laughter tones up the muscles of the face and improves facial expressions. When you laugh, your face becomes red due to an increase in blood supply, which nourishes the facial skin and gives it a happy glow. During the act of laughter, a thin film of tears is squeezed through the tear glands moistening the eyes and adding sparkle. Laughing people generally look more cheerful and attractive.

8. Fosters Instant Relaxation
Have you experienced that deeply cleansed feeling after a good laugh? Laughter is a means of reducing muscle tension because laughter is often followed by a state of relaxation. Not only does laughter provide a physical and emotional release, cathartic laughter is a socially acceptable way of releasing pent-up feelings of anger and frustration.

9. Boosts the Immune System
Laughter helps to boost the immune system, which is the master key for maintaining good health, by strengthening the body’s ability to fight disease. Laughter increases the body’s ability to produce and release a bacteria and virus fighter known as salivary immunoglobin A (S-IgA), which defends against infectious organisms that enter through the respiratory tract.Researchers studied two groups of students. One group tended to use humor to cope with stress and another did not. After both groups viewed a comedy routine, the group that relied on laughter to fight stress had higher S-IgA levels than the other group.

10. Connects Us with Others
Research shows that when we laugh, we tend to talk more, make more eye contact and do more of the things that help us connect with others. And that good feeling we get when we laugh can remain with us long after the laughter subsides.

Sad but True!

A recent study showed that pre-school-aged children laugh up to 400 times a day, but by the time we reach adulthood, we laugh a mere 17 times per day on average. Imagine that – this is no laughing matter!

Of course, I'm still recommending that you keep going to the gym, eat your greens, and quit loading up on chocolate and refined carbs, especially during the holiday season. While laughter isn’t the panacea for all disease, its benefits provide enough evidence to make the case for laughing it up as much and often as you can.

Amanda Lerner is a holistic health counselor.

Check out some other interesting articles about laughing. (Just turn to the next page.)

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