Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Laughter as Efficient Anti-Aging Therapy

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter"
Mark Twain

Laughter can be a powerful anti-aging weapon. And the most wonderful thing about it is that it is free, available to everyone, and quite a pleasant medicine to consume.

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"You don't stop laughing because you're old. You grow old because you stop laughing".

Society tends to regard humor as frivolous; however, few activities are as mentally demanding and intellectually stimulating as humor. Humor helps you develop perspective and take yourself too seriously.

Interestingly, laughter is an unconscious reaction to external stimulus. We can stifle it, but we don’t have conscious control over when or why we laugh. People of all ages, races, and cultures share this uniquely human trait, the ability to laugh!

Research has shown that people often laugh not just at jokes, but in social situation where they are communicating with others. The laughter often punctuates our speech and seems to serve as social bonding elements in our interactions with others.

Laughing uses a lot of muscles and stimulates the immune system. It exercises our minds. Humor can keep you mentally fit and add fun and enjoyment to your life.

Research shows that only 30% of longevity is genetic. Therefore 70% you control with your mind on how you think, with your body on how you keep yourself in shape, and the lifestyle you choose to live.

The biggest factors are psychological i.e. Attitudes, Beliefs and Coping Skills. Attitudes are such as optimism, gratitude, having a sense of purpose and embracing lifelong learning and change, beliefs such as thinking of oneself as youthful, believing in making new friends all your life, and expecting to enjoy living a very long, healthy and happy life. And coping skills such as dealing well with change, loss of health and death of a spouse or child, forming intimate relationships.

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Much has been written lately about the benefits of laughter, but the real pioneer in this field was Norman Cousins. Back in the 1970's Cousins studied the effect of humor on a person's health. His ground-breaking work, as a layperson diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, documented his use of laughter in treating himself, with medical approval and oversight, into remission. He published his personal research results in the New England Journal of Medicine and wrote a book about his journey to healing called "Anatomy Of An Illness."

Hunter Campbell, M.D., the American physician whose life inspired the 1998 movie “Patch Adams,” took laughter therapy to a new level. In 1971, Dr. Campbell and several others opened a free hospital in a six-bedroom home, a pilot health care facility through which thousands of patients received unique, humor-infused care over the next twelve years. This hospital-home evolved into the Gesundheit Institute, a not for profit health care organization which currently offers volunteer programs like humanitarian clowning trips to hospitals, orphanages, refugee camps and prisons, as well as educational programs designed to help medical students develop compassionate connections with their patients. “We’re trying to make compassion and generosity the center core of what medicine is,” says Campbell about the organization.

Dr. Campbell’s ultimate goal, pending adequate financial support, is to open a free, full-scale hospital which offers allopathic and complimentary therapies, and inspires other medical facilities to move beyond traditional methodology. Intending to increase engagement with life for both patients and staff, Dr. Campbell also envisions incorporating performing arts, crafts, nature, agriculture, recreation, and social service into this integrative facility.

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Stress is one of the most harmful factors with respect to aging. It creates facial wrinkles, it influences digestion, and the absorption of vitamins and minerals by the body and other body functions, which leads to the deterioration of the body over time. Studies in the 80's found that long-term stress can have a negative effect on our health. Feeling anxious, angry, or always tense negatively affects our immune system.

Loma Linda University researchers found that even anticipating a good laugh could produce health protecting hormones. Research by Dr. Lee Berk showed a few concrete things that happen when you laugh (or anticipate laughing):
  • Beta-endorphin levels increase by 27%
  • Human growth hormone levels increase by 87%
  • Cortisol levels decrease by 39%
  • Ephinephrine levels decrease by 70%
  • Dopac levels decrease by 38%

The last three on the list are measures of stress in your body. When these decrease, the negative effects of stress on your health should decrease too. This alone could make laughter a major factor in long-term health, modifying the known, negative impact of chronic stress. Beta-endorphins are chemicals that “make you feel good” and human growth hormone improves your immune response and helps with anti-aging.

This and other studies have shown that laughter increased the production of antibodies, including T-cells (known for their killing activity of tumor cells). And just in 2010, this same group published another study showing that participants who laughed while watching a comedy increased the dilation of blood vessels by one-fifth, and this benefit lasted for up to 24 hours. This is great news for anyone at risk for heart disease because when blood vessels are constricted, or blocked, this causes damage to your heart. So now you can keep your blood vessels open and flowing with laughter instead of taking a pill. What can be better?

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Some researchers explain funny-bone medicine through a psychoneuroimmunologic (PNI) lens; PNI is an emerging field exploring the nexuses between psycho-emotional states and the nervous and immune systems. Some PNI enthusiasts have theorized that laughter improves immune function by decreasing stress hormones: epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Since we have just recently started exploring the frontier of PNI, though, more research is necessary to conclusively determine why humor and/or laughter seem to boost immune system function.

Though the exact mechanism of how laughter boosts immunity remains unclear, studies demonstrate that humor and/or laughter generate subtle biological changes which serve as markers of immune system activity. By exploring humor-induced variations in salivary IgA (SIgA) levels and natural killer cell cytotoxicity, PNI researchers have connected humor and/or laughter to immune system enhancement.  

In a randomized crossover design study, ten college students were shown two videos: one informational and one humorous. The subjects demonstrated significantly higher SIgA levels after watching Richard Pryor Live, indicating that sense of humor and humor response (laughter) can affect one measure of immune activity.

PNI researchers have found another indicator that laughter improves immune system function: increased natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity. NK cells are lymphocytes (white blood cells) that can distinguish cancerous and virally-infected cells from normal cells, and can destroy the former without harming the latter. As lower levels of NK cell activity are correlated with metastasized cancer, higher levels indicate better resistance to disease.

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Definitely, laughter, including anticipated laughter, improves our health, boosts our energy, and without question improves your outlook on life. Laughter is part of our genetic make-up. Babies start laughing spontaneously without coaching at a very early age.

We can stimulate laughter by viewing funny movies or videos, reading a funny book, reading a joke on the Internet, however, it has been proven that most of our humor and laughter comes from the silly things we think, hear, or share with others. When we laugh, negative emotions are pushed away. It is impossible to be stressed and to laugh at the same time.

Laughter also provides exercise for the body. Laughter stimulates heart and blood circulation, improves lung capacity, exercises facial and abdominal muscles. Laughter exercise can be done regularly regardless of age, or level of physical fitness.

Anti-aging reasons to laugh on a daily basis:
  • Strengthens and activates the immune system
  • Serves as stress relief humor by reducing levels of stress hormones
  • Positive effect on brain neurotransmitters
  • Lessens the perception of pain
  • Can help lower blood pressure
  • It improves lung capacity and blood oxygen levels
  • Can aid the healing process
  • Promotes relaxation of muscles
  •  Natural anti-aging tool
  • Helps us sleep better
  • It is contagious - it will extend to the people around you
  •  Has zero negative effects

Sources and Additional Information:


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