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Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation

One of the best things we can do these days is laugh, but did you know it can also contribute to a healthier you? The phrase laughter is the best medicine is truer than you may think.

In an article written by the National Register of Health Service Psychologists, political journalist Norman Cousins was diagnosed with a rare, painful rheumatoid disease in the 1960s. The prognosis was not good. Through personal research, he identified a strong correlation between his disease and stress. Cousins wondered if negative emotions such as worry and anxiety promoted his disease, and would positive emotions like happiness and laughter dissolve it? He began watching shows such as Laurel and Hardy, Candid Camera and the Marx Brothers. In his book, “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient,” he reflected that 10 minutes laughing provided two hours of pain-free sleep. His disease eventually went into remission.

So what is the correlation of laughter to health? The physiological effects of laughter on the body is called “Gelotology” (from the Greek word for laughter) meaning the physical response to humor. What happens when you laugh? Fifteen facial muscles contract and there is electrical stimulation of the zygomatic cheek muscle. The epiglottis (flap in the throat) closes halfway interrupting respiration so the intake of air becomes irregular and gasping. Noises often result from these behaviors resulting in giggles to animated belly laughing.



When you laugh, your heart rate and pulse elevates and your respiration rate becomes irregular as the breathing pattern is disrupted. This causes increased ventilation, clearing of mucous plugs, and accelerating the exchange of residual air which boosts blood oxygen levels. Studies have shown that 20 seconds of laughter has the ability to double heart rate for three to five minutes. Cousins described this as “a form of jogging for the innards.”

Laughter not only affects you physically, it also can impact emotional health. Seeing a smile and returning it changes brain chemistry and gives a natural high. It gives more pleasure than eating chocolate, shopping, receiving money, or drinking coffee. Humor also helps people cope more effectively with life stressors. Laughing promotes feelings of happiness and joy, and under these conditions it is much easier to think creatively around a problem. Humor is often used as a way for people to get in touch with feelings and control them in difficult situations. Laughter is engaging, brings people together, and improves interpersonal relationships. In these times of social isolation one of the most significant missing pieces is laughter. It puts people in a positive frame of mind and over time makes them positive thinkers.



When you think of it, there are no downsides to laughter. It can improve mood, reduce stress, has physical results and there are no unwanted side effects. It’s something that can be freely shared with others. Not only is laughter the best medicine, it is also contagious.


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