Laughter is said to be the best medicine. The sound of laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it brings people together, increasing happiness and intimacy. Laughter triggers the release of natural feel-good chemicals that can strengthen our immune system, boost our energy, protect us from the damaging effects of stress and even diminish pain. This priceless medicine is free, fun and easy to use. The ability to laugh easily and frequently is a great resource for dealing with problems, enhancing our relationships, and supporting both our physical and emotional health.
Health benefits of laughter
Studies show that laughter doesn't only promote good health and prevent illness; it also has physiological, psychological and quality of life benefits. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals which promote an overall sense of well-being. Research by Professor Robin Ferner from the University of Birmingham and Jeffrey Aronson, fellow of Green Templeton College Oxford published in the BMJ on 12 December 2013 shows that laughter has the effect of reducing:
- helps relieve tension
- helps relieve psychological and cardiovascular stress
- increases pain threshold
- reduces heart attack risk
- improves lung function,
- increases energy use
- reduces blood sugar levels
- stimulates the immune system and the circulatory system.
Laughter in the treatment of illness
Such are the positive effects of laughter on our health that an entire medical field has developed harnessing laughter in the fight against critical illness, especially in the case of children. Called humour therapy or laughter therapy, humour is used as a complementary therapy to relieve physical or emotional pain or stress. Humour therapy brings the benefits of laughter to hospital wards and helps patients cope with their illness.
Clown therapy for sick children
A growing area of humour therapy is clown therapy. Using the ability of the absurd to make laugh, professional clowns make use of their skills to bring joy and laughter to the sick room. Their antics release tension, stress, fear and pain and help distract patients who generally are children from focusing on their pain. Professor Dan Engelhard, head of Pediatrics at Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem describes the therapeutic power of hospital clowns very succinctly:
"medical clowns --- help acutely ill children lose their fear of hospitalization and treatment, and they forge a deep connection with the chronically sick youngsters, even those who are withdrawn and remote. Once the clowns reach them, it opens the way for the medical staff to do so, as well. For all our youngsters, the clowns turn the hospital experience into something pleasurable. They create a joyous atmosphere, in which everyone is smiling."
Laughter to help prevent heart disease
Laughter brings smiles to hospital wards but can it play a role in the prevention of illness? According to Dr Suzanne Steinbaum attending cardiologist and director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City laughter decreases stress hormones, reduces artery inflammation and increases levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Statistics show that people who don’t laugh have higher rates of heart disease.
It seems that laughter really is the best medicine.