‘Laughter is the best medicine’ is not popular till date without some inner meaning to it! There have been numerable insights into laughter therapy and it was not until 1995 that laughter was introduced as an exercise form and laughter yoga was practiced in laughter clubs, public parks or gatherings by groups of people. An increasing population have recognized the benefits of laughter as an alternative medicine approach and they try using it along with their everyday medical therapies for added benefits. There are no side effects to this therapy, no fretting over overdoses or allergies, but still the medical community feels uncomfortable declaring laughter for a healthier and better community of people. Laughter does have its share of advantages:
Vascular function: Stress is a major inducer of cardiovascular disease and controlling stress is a great way to improve heart health. A study by the American Journal of Cardiology has proved that people who watch comedy movies have increased carotid artery compliance and their heart rate and blood pressure increased significantly.
Cardiovascular health: A research study focused on the link between how often a person laughs and its impact on heart disease and stroke. After adjusting factors such as high blood pressure, depression and BMI, results showed that people who never/almost never laughed were at an 21% increased risk of heart disease than those who laughed daily. Also, people who rarely laughed were at a 60% higher risk of stroke than others. Reputed heart organizations recommend laughter for reduced artery inflammation and increased production of HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol explained concisely at www.firsteatright.com is the good cholesterol in our body that is available in a variety of foods.
Natural Antidepressant & Stress Buster: Depression calls for an appointment with the psychologist/psychiatrist who recommends taking up CBT sessions and talk therapies to come out of it. None of them will be willing to recommend laughter therapy in place of these sessions. But a latest study that involved 42 individuals suffering from depression showed that laughter therapy that includes singing funny songs, laughing for diversion, healthy clapping, stretching and laughing aloud reduced depression and improved overall mood and sleep levels. Humor and laughter decrease levels of stress hormones (such as cortisol and epinephrine) and improve dopamine levels (this mediates between desire and motivation).
Blood pressure levels: Hypertension is a major problem worldwide and is an invaluable risk factor for heart disease and stroke. One research focused on laughter and music therapy for patients with high blood pressure. Results showed that BP levels decreased by 7 mmHg for those undertaking laughter therapy compared to only a 6 mm Hg change in those undergoing music therapy.
Anxiety & Other Negative Emotions: Laughter therapy seems to significantly reduce the impact of anxiety in patients generally, especially in those with Parkinson’s disease. It also helps to improve positive thoughts, self-esteem and reduce depression effects in menopausal women.
Pain relief: Early physicians used laughter as an analgesic for pain, for instance French surgeon Henri de Mondeville in the 14th century used humor to soothe or distract patients during surgery/recovery. Research shows that people who watched comedy movies needed lesser pain medications than the rest of the group.
Burn Calories: A 2014 journal studies proved that laughing helps to burn calories. A team of 45 people were split into two groups. One group was made to watch a comedy clip for 10 minutes and the other group was made to watch clips that were unlikely to stimulate laughter. Both groups were attached to a calorimeter that measured energy expenditure and heart rate. Results showed that people who watched comedy clips for 10 minutes lost around 10 calories in comparison to those who did not burn any calories.
All said, a major problem with laughter research is that it’s very difficult to determine cause and effect. For example, when a study shows that people who laugh are healthier, it might also be because healthy people have more to laugh about. Most studies on laughter have also been done on a small group of individuals. Studies on laughter mostly focus on reducing pain with humor. But we don’t know if it is the laughter that is causing decreased pain or any other distraction (a thrilling drama, for instance) could produce the same effect.
To conclude, there is no harm in laughing. In fact, you are doing good by spreading joy and happiness to people around you. Only take care that your laughter or jokes are not born due to other people’s weaknesses or aimed at them.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.