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Is laughter the best medicine?

An old man went to the doctor complaining of pain in his right leg.

“I’m afraid the cause is simply old age,” replied the doctor. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do.”

“That can’t be!” fumed the patient. “You must be a quack!”

“Why are you so sure I’m wrong?” countered the doctor.

“It’s quite obvious,” the old man answered.

“My other leg feels fine, and it’s the exact same age!”

Humor as health care

I doubt this is the first time you’ve heard that laughter is good for your health, but have you ever seen research to back that statement up?

Turns out, there’s plenty of science behind the saying! Mayo ClinicHuffington Post, and National Geographic have all recently published articles exploring the concept.

The piece from Mayo Clinic focuses on how laughter relieves stress by producing calming physical effects. For example, a good belly laugh can:

  • Increase your intake of oxygen;
  • Stimulate your organs;
  • Release endorphins in your brain;
  • Boost circulation;
  • Trigger muscle relaxation; and
  • Lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

How cool is that?

There are other positive side effects, too.

The Huffington Post article highlights research out of Loma Linda University, which found that exposure to funny videos boosted memory recall in older adults. Another study by researchers at Vanderbilt University showed that just 10 minutes of laughter can burn up to 40 calories.

A prescription for puns?

While a doctor is unlikely to write a scrip for more laughter, some medical experts do recommend building humor into your average day.

“The best laugh is one that brings tears to our eyes,” says Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. His advice: at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, plus 15 minutes of laughter per day.

The Mayo Clinic shared some easy tips for adding humor to your routine:

  • Make a habit of calling or spending time with friends who make you laugh. Humor is contagious!
  • Visit your local library and check out books by humor writers – I recommend autobiographies of comedians.
  • Find simple things, like Internet memes or comic strips, that make you chuckle. Print them out and hang them on an office wall or bathroom mirror – anywhere you’ll see them and have a laugh throughout the day.

Mary Bennett, director of the Western Kentucky University School of Nursing, told National Geographic that laughter will not cure or prevent any disease.

She added, however, “[Laughter is] a useful adjunct of real medicine. If you’re going through something like chemotherapy, anything you can do to help you stay sane will really help.”

If even laughter doesn’t make you feel better, try this good advice from (satire!) website The Onion: “Report: Putting Head In Hands And Moaning Quietly Still Best Way To Get Through Next Several Seconds.”

– Jennie Saia, Contributing Editor