Laughter is the Best Medicine

Send in the Clowns
By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness

Those people who poo-poo the old adage that laughter is the best medicine may just find that the joke’s on them. There’s new research that examines the health benefits of laughter – and it shows that a good old guffaw can be terrific for cardiovascular health.

The Humor Connection

To check the health benefits of laughter, scientists at the University of Maryland tested the blood vessels of 20 healthy volunteers after they watched a comedy and a drama. They found that laughing dramatically improved the working of the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels. The blood vessels dilated better and blood flow improved 22 percent. The reverse was true of the drama. The vessels constricted and blood flow decreased 35 percent. The changes lasted 30 to 45 minutes after watching each movie segment.

The researchers concluded that 15 minutes of laughter a day may go along way toward good health. They also noted that, while they don’t have enough data to say definitively that laughing will help you live longer, it certainly can’t hurt – and this research is evidence that being in a good mood does have a direct impact on the blood vessels.
The magnitude of the changes was similar to the benefit that might be seen with aerobic exercise.

Although this is the first study to show that laughter has a direct impact on heart health an earlier study by the Maryland team found that people with heart disease generally responded to everyday life events with less humor than people who were healthy. And Harvard University researchers have reported that people with an optimistic outlook also have a reduced risk of heart disease.

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Walk on the Funny Side of Life

So how can you find ways to improve your funny bone and add more laughter to your life? Here are some creative ways to incorporate humor into your everyday routine:

  • Be on the lookout for humor. Start looking for the absurd or silly things that go on around you each day.
  • Watch young children to learn how to find delight and amusement in the most ordinary things.
  • Increase you exposure to comedies, funny sitcoms, joke books, comedy clubs, etc.
  • Hang around funny friends, or better yet, marry a funny partner.
  • Take a 5-10 minute humor break each day. Read jokes or listen to a funny tape.
  • If you hear a joke you really like, write it down, or tell it to someone else to help you remember it.
  • Remind yourself to have fun. You can even give yourself permission to act silly. Put on a pair of silly glasses or a bright red clown nose. Sing at the top of your lungs – even (or maybe especially) if you can’t carry a tune. If you don’t want to share this silliness with the world, you can still get a laugh in the privacy of your own home.
  • Spend time with people who help you see the lighter side of life and, whenever possible, avoid people who are negative and dour.
  • Lighten up! Take your life’s work seriously, but take yourself a little more lightly.
  • Start a humor library. Clip funny cartoons, collect calendars, mugs, pictures, funny greeting cards, books or anything else that makes you laugh. Collect some humorous audiotapes, CDs, videos or DVDs. Post humorous cartoons and calendars on your wall, so you can look at them often for a good laugh.

Finally, remember that the most powerful thing we’re given is our ability to laugh. It’s our greatest gift, especially if we can laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves so seriously. So practice a little humor every day. Your health will thank you for it.

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Laughter can also be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. Not only does laughter give your midsection a workout, it benefits digestion and absorption functioning too.

But wait, there’s more. Researchers at Vanderbilt University have even found that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike! Their study, which was presented at the European Congress on Obesity, reported that test subjects burned 20 percent more calories when watching clips of the “Bill Cosby Show” than when watching a video of sheep grazing in an English meadow.

To do this, they fitted 100 volunteers with heart rate monitors and had them watch the two different clips in a specially designed room, known as a metabolic chamber, which enabled the investigators to measure the difference in the amount of oxygen inhaled and carbon dioxide exhaled in each volunteer while they watched the clips.

After reviewing their data, they found that laughing raises energy expenditure and increases the heart rate 10 to 20 percent. Better yet, just 10 to15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories. Of course, that doesn’t give you an excuse to pig out when you’re watching sitcoms. After all, you’d have to laugh for 15 minutes to burn off two Hershey’s Kisses and it would take an hour of chortles to burn one chocolate bar. But since every little bit counts while you’re watching your weight, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to boost metabolism!

This Just In . . .

If you’re down in the dumps, it’s hard to get motivated. But it just might be worth forcing yourself to get up and start walking, say doctors at the University of Texas at Austin. The researchers found that, among 40 men and women recently diagnosed with major depression, those who spent just half an hour on a treadmill reported a short-term improvement in energy and emotional well-being.

The patients in the study were randomly assigned to walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes or spend the time resting quietly in a comfortable chair. All of the subjects completed standard surveys of mood and well-being before and after their exercise or rest period. The researchers found that both exercise and quiet rest appeared to boost patients’ mood, helping them feel less fatigue, tension, distress and anger. But the exercisers reported greater gains in general well-being and “vigor.”

Past studies have shown that regular exercise can help treat depression over the long-haul. But these new findings show that you don’t have to wait to start getting some benefit. It’s kind of like instant karma.

So the next time you’re feeling blue, take a hike – literally. A 30 minute walk in nature, around the neighborhood or even through the mall just might be enough to break through your emotional funk. And don’t forget, you’ll be getting some healthy exercise, too!


Bartholomew JB, Morrison D, Ciccolo J. “Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood and Well-Being in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2005;37:2032-2037.

Colmenares C. No joke: Study finds laughing can burn calories.” The Reporter. Vanderbilt Medical Center. 10 June 2005.

Kubzansky LD, Sparrow D, Vokonas P, et al. “Is the glass half empty or half full? A prospective study of optimism and coronary heart disease in the normative aging study.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 2001;63:910-916.

Miller M, Mangano C, Park Y, et al. “Impact of cinematic viewing on endothelial function.” Heart. 2006;92:261-262.