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A joke a day keeps the doctor away?

Created date

November 25th, 2009

In the 1970s desperately ill author Norman Cousins found that for every ten minutes of laughing he got two hours of pain-free sleep. Since then one study found that people who just expected to see a funny movie showed a 27% increase in beta-endorphins (pain-relieving hormones) in their bloodstreams, compared to groups not expecting such a movie.

Do you laugh enough?

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The best medicine

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According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter s health benefits are no joke. In the short term, laughter can stimulate your organs, relieve stress, and soothe tension and stomachaches. In the long term, laughter may improve your immune system, relieve pain, and increase personal satisfaction.

Everyone agrees that laughter and humor have positive benefits on psychological health. "At the very least, laughter offsets mental stress," says Philip Taylor, M.D., physician at Maris Grove, an Erickson-built community in Glen Mills, Pa.

You may not live longer, but you may live better. "If you can laugh at yourself, it is easier to bear the physical burdens that so often come to us as we age," says Randolph Schiffer, M.D., chairman of the department of neuropsychiatry at Texas Tech University.

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Enhancing immunity

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Research has demonstrated benefits of laughter therapy on the immune system. Among the benefits are an increased number and activity level of natural killer cells designed to attack harmful cells (like cancer cells) and an increase in antibodies that fight upper respiratory infections.

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Boosting heart health

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Laughter may benefit heart health as well. A two-group study by the University of Maryland had one group watch a comedy movie and the other group watch a movie designed to provoke mental stress. "In almost everyone watching the comedy, the inner lining of the arteries expanded," says Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland. "Potential benefits of this effect include better blood flow through the heart s arteries."

Although this was a small study, Miller believes the results are compelling because there was such a profound difference between the two study groups. "The group that was laughing showed benefits comparable to doing aerobics without the wear and tear on their bodies," he says.

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Laugh among friends

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"It s much easier to laugh when you are with other people," Schiffer says. "It is important to find connections. Those connections might be at a place of worship, a club, or any social gathering."

No one not even laughter therapy s most ardent supporters suggests that laughter should replace standard medical treatments. Miller says, "I recommend at least one hearty laugh a day, but I don t suggest it as a substitute for exercise or whatever medicine someone is already taking."

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