Laughter as medicine

Our society places a big emphasis on diet but good health is more than just diet. It encompasses the integration of a number of vital factors including a sense of community as well as sound mental health.
If you’ve ever spent some time around a small child it will be clear to you that they laugh an awful lot more than you do. Some literature suggests 4-year-olds laugh 300 times a day but adults only laugh 4 times a day. The science is still up for debate, but I would say from observing the antics of my toddler (who turned 3 this year) and myself that these numbers are pretty accurate.

As we get older we seem to stop laughing so frequently. This is particularly sad when you consider that numerous studies show laughter provides a physical release for accumulated tension, and improves our resilience to stress. The inability to handle stress and the resultant adrenal fatigue is something I frequently encounter in clinical practice. It is all too easy to get bogged down and feel burdened with all we have to do and we often fail to see the humorous side of things because we feel so stressed.

Laughter therapy is employed in hospitals for cancer patients where it has been shown to improve their immunity by boosting natural killer cells. In nursing homes, it has been shown to improve quality of life in patients with dementia. Humour can also be used as for a way to increase tolerance to pain. Laughter releases endorphins, feel good factors that are also natural painkillers. This results in lower tension, as well as a distraction from what it is causing the pain. Clinical studies also show that laughter is beneficial for heart health. It appears to enhance production of nitric oxide, which increases blood flow and prevent platelets from sticking together .

On a lighter note, laughter may also help to burn calories. Ten to fifteen minutes of laughter has been found to increase energy expenditure by 50 to 170 kJ (10 to 40 kcal) per day. While 40 calories does not seem a lot (it’s the equivalent of one small apple), if you laugh a lot you could burn some serious calories. And I know that I’d definitely prefer to burn calories laughing rather than working out at the gym.

Lisa Costa Bir is a Naturopath, lecturer & writer. She runs her own clinic in Caringbah, South Sydney. For healthy tips connect with Lisa on Facebook under “Lisa Costa Bir Naturopath” & Instagram under “lisacostabirnaturopath”.

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