We all know that a good laugh can help you feel better. But can humor also improve your health?
The late Norman Cousins thought so. When the writer and editor was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in the 1970's, his self-prescribed treatment included humorous TV shows and films, which he credited for helping him recover. He called laughter "internal jogging."
Three decades later, there's new research that may support Cousins' belief. In a study of 20 diabetic patients, half of whom were exposed to humor as part of their treatment, those in the laughter group had higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and fewer signs of inflammation in their blood vessels (a possible risk for heart disease) than those not exposed to humor.
To be sure, a study with only 20 subjects is far from conclusive, and it has yet to be published. Still, it follows other research suggesting that laughter may help increase blood flow, reduce levels of stress hormones, and enhance immune function.
By itself, laughter therapy won't cure cancer or keep you from getting sick. But it certainly can't hurt. At the very least, it may make your pursuit of better health more enjoyable. Watch, for example, how some yoga practitioners are incorporating laugher into their routines.
One physician, Dr. Brad Nieder, has gone so far as to become a stand-up comedian. If further research corroborates that, as the Bible says, a "merry heart doeth good like a medicine," then the good doctor may indeed be on to something by keeping people in stitches.