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Study Shows Laughter Works Better Than Pharmaceuticals Alone To Increase Good Cholesterol and Decrease Inflammation

Multiple research studies have shown that repetitive laughter has the same effects on the body as exercise. Laughing not only enhances a positive mood, but lowers stress hormones, increases immune activity, and lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, similar to moderate exercise and better than pharmaceuticals. In fact, you can maximize these health benefits for yourself by doing fun and simple "laughter exercises."

The physiological study of laughter has a name --gelotology, and that there are actually researchers who study humor and laughter and how they have an impact on the brain.

Consider a recent study at Loma Linda University, which involved diabetic patients who had high cholesterol and high blood pressure. One group of participants received standard pharmaceutical treatment for these conditions...a second group was instructed to "view self-selected humor" (for instance, watch sitcoms or videos that they considered funny) for 30 minutes daily. After one year: In the laughter group, HDL (good) cholesterol increased by 26% and blood levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) decreased by 66%, on the other group, HDL increased by just 3% and C-reactive protein declined by just 26%, on average.

Additional research from Loma Linda University suggests that laughter also can boost immunity...relax tense muscles...reduce levels of stress hormones...and raise levels of mood-elevating hormones called endorphins (the same hormones released during orgasm!).

In another study, 14 healthy volunteers were recruited to a three-week study to examine the effects that eustress (mirthful laughter) and distress have on modulating the key hormones that control appetite. During the study, each subject was required to watch one 20-minute video at random that was either upsetting (distress) or humorous (eustress) in nature.

When the researchers compared the hormone levels pre- and post-viewing, they found that the volunteers who watched the distressing video showed no statistically significant change in their appetite hormone levels during the 20-minutes they spent watching the video.

In contrast, the subjects who watched the humorous video had changes in blood pressure and also changes in the leptin and ghrelin levels.

Specifically, the level of leptin decreased as the level of ghrelin increased, much like the acute effect of moderate physical exercise that is often associated with increased appetite.

Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore studied the effects of laughter on the blood vessels ability to expand -- known as vasodilation. Poor vasodilation can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes by making the passageways prone to being blocked, cutting off vital blood flow.

The researchers asked 20 healthy men and women to watch clips of two movies -- either the violent opening battle scene in the 1998 film "Saving Private Ryan" or a humorous scene from a comedy, such as the 1996 "Kingpin."

The researchers tested the subjects' vasodilation, before and after the movie, by constricting and releasing an artery in their arms with a blood pressure cuff and then using ultrasound to measure how the blood vessels were functioning.

Overall, blood flow decreased by about 35 percent after experiencing stress but increased 22 percent after laughter -- an improvement equivalent to that produced by a 15- to 30-minute workout.

"These kinds of results are impossible to replicate with drug therapy," said Professor Tracy Stevenson. "We haven't seen any pharmaceutical drug capable of reproducing the incredible health promoting effects seen from subjects who simply laugh daily," she stated.

Laughter could be a simple stress reducer, a kind of natural Valium. Or, "It could give off social cues and be a way of building society. We laugh to connect with each other," says Steven M. Sultanoff, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University who teaches about the therapeutic effects of humor.

Some experts suggest that laughter helps people cope with the surprises of life. "We laugh when we perceive things as incongruous. That may be a way of dealing with things in the world that don't fit together," says Sultanoff.

Laughter is part of every culture, and humans have known for centuries that humor is good for the body, says Lee Berk, professor of family medicine at the University of California at Irvine.

It is easy to bring more laughter to your life. "The average adult laughs 17 times daily. Keep track for a few days--and if you're not laughing at least that often, make a conscious effort to increase your opportunities to laugh," suggested Katherine Puckett, PhD, national director of mind-body medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America facility in Zion, Illinois, who has extensive experience applying therapeutic laughter. "Since we laugh most frequently during social interactions with others, spend time with people who enjoy laughing and being playful. Also try watching children and pets playing...enjoying funny videos...deliberately smiling more often (it's contagious!)...and observing the world through a 'comic lens' as you look for humor around you even in difficult situations."

Another option is to consciously do laughter exercises with friends, family or coworkers. If you feel self-conscious at first, remind yourselves that you're laughing with each other, not at each other, and that your intention is to have good-natured fun. "At first, the laughter is simulated--but in short order, it becomes real," Dr. Puckett said. As often as you like, try...

Laughter chant. As you clap in rhythm, repeatedly say, "Ho-ho ha-ha-ha, ho-ho ha-ha-ha."

Roller coaster. Lift your arms, sway, jiggle and scream as if you were on a coaster. (This is easiest while seated.)

Snowball fight. Lean over and scoop up some imaginary snow, pack it into a snowball and throw it at another person. Everyone naturally laughs while throwing or being "hit." Try putting some pretend snow down someone's back, which may make you both laugh even harder.

Sing with laughter. Even if no one is having a birthday, sing Happy Birthday to You to each other, substituting "hee hee" or "ha ha" or "ho ho" for each word. You can swap this laughter vocabulary for the words in many songs--and before you even finish singing, you'll be feeling happier and more energized.

The University of Washington offers this fact sheet on laughter. It's designed for kids, but adults will find it interesting, too.

Aella Angelakopoulos is a community journalist who thrives on researching, practicing and living a healthy lifestyle, with optimal nutrition, fitness and all things natural, especially health.

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