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It’s no joke: Science mostly supports humor’s positive effects on health

When it comes to health, laughter is no joke, medical experts say.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter can stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles. It can increase intake of oxygen, trigger the release of endorphins, relieve stress and lower blood pressure. It can even ease pain and improve the immune system.

A study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center concluded that laughter and an active sense of humor can help protect you against a heart attack. It found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh than people of the same age without heart disease.

Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles and other medical institutions that are part of Rx Laughter, a project to measure the effect of entertainment on trauma patients, found that children undergoing a medical procedure had less anxiety and handled pain better "when they watched a funny, enjoyable, engaging film or television show.”

Most research and medical investigation have found positive effects of laughter and humor.

However, regarding certain effects, "the jury is still out,” Dr. Ron Sterling said. The Seattle psychiatrist, who maintains various lighter Web sites including www.laughtergood.com and www.duckiesrule.com, said the problem with studying laughter and humor is that they are different things. Laughter is a behavior, while humor is a nuanced and subtle state of mind, so even defining it is difficult, much less researching its effects in a controlled, scientific environment.

Some have suggested humor produces T or "killer” cells that fight cancer, but Sterling said findings have been "conflicting.”

Another complication, he said, is that laughter can be a response to stimuli other than humor. For some, it can be the result of stress or fear. Humor, he said, must be in balance in a person’s psychological makeup to have a positive effect.

"Being too humorous is probably dangerous,” he said. For instance, the behavior, much of it dangerous, exhibited in "Jackass: The Movie” could be interpreted as humor.

Still, Sterling said, humor is part of what makes people more "flexible and resilient,” psychologically speaking. And those qualities are vital in keeping us mentally healthy.

When things work well, we can reduce stress, he said. "Stress is now well known to be one of the huge variables in clinical depression,” he said.

Whatever the variables or unknowns, Sterling said, it’s likely the effects of laughter and humor are mostly positive on your outlook, your ability to deal with pain and many other health factors. So, laugh it up.

Short-term benefits of laughter

→Enhancing your intake of oxygen-rich air; stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles, and increasing the endorphins released by your brain.

→Activating and relieving your stress response, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, producing content, relaxed feelings.

→Soothing tension and stomachaches, easing digestion and stimulating circulation, and reducing symptoms of stress.

Long-term effects
→Improving your immune system. Negative thoughts produce chemicals that can increase stress and decrease immunity, while positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help fight stress and illnesses.


→Relieving pain. Laughter can cause the body to produce natural painkillers.

→Increasing personal satisfaction and making difficult situations easier to handle or accept.

Source: www.mayoclinic.com

Related Photos
Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter  Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by  Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c78af669698f7276f7b5c17d69f6a597.jpg" alt="Photo - Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman" title="Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Tyler Slater during the OKC Laughter Club, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, at the New York Life building in Oklahoma City. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
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