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How Laughing Makes You Healthier - Really

Last spring I was at a medical conference where I heard a talk about nutrition for surgery patients presented by a prominent surgery professor. Although the information was good, I have to confess that I only remember a small amount of what I heard. What I do remember was that at the end of his very serious lecture, the professor spoke about the importance of laughter for health.

Then, he started stomping around the room laughing. It was hilarious and inspiring to see this senior surgeon in a three-piece suit convulsing in laughter. The audience spontaneously got up and started following suit (pardon the pun). Before I knew it I was laughing uncontrollably. I felt fantastic. During his talk I was having post-lunch fatigue and was fighting to stay awake. After his talk I felt alive, happy and refreshed.

I have always loved to laugh. So seeing proof of its health benefits makes me very happy. In 2000, Dr. Michael Miller (not a relative) at the University of Maryland did a study that found that patients with heart disease were less likely to find amusing daily life situations funny when compared to those without heart disease. The question raised was: Which came first, the lack of humor or the heart disease?

Five years later Miller conducted a study that hinted at the answer. Using healthy volunteers to see the effect of hearty laughter on blood vessels, he found that it dilated and opened blood vessels improving blood flow to the body. Sad or stressful movies had the opposite effect causing constriction and narrowing of blood vessels. The body reacts to laughter in a way that is similar to aerobic exercise.

The take-home lesson from this is that in addition to aerobic exercise for wellness you can add a healthy dose of laughter. This is especially useful if you are in a place where you cannot exercise. When you are on an airplane watch a funny movie. If you are stuck at a desk at work, entertain your colleagues with some good jokes -- because laughter really is good medicine for all. The main side effect is that you may annoy others around you. Engaging them in whatever “funny” business is going on can solve that problem and help them at the same time.

“If taking vitamins doesn't keep you healthy enough, try more laughter: The most wasted of all days is that on which one has not laughed.” —Nicolas-Sebastien Chamfort