Although the idea that laughter improves health has been around for centuries, the modern therapeutic use of humour originated in the 1970s when American journalist Norman Cousins documented laughing as a major curative factor during his prolonged ailment. He stated that 10 minutes of laughing gave him two hours of drug-free relief from pain. Cousins was laughed at then (ironic, isn’t it?). But today science seems to have proved him right. A good sense of humour means all is well.
So what is humour, really?
"Humour consists of laughter (the physiological component), wit (the cognitive component), and mirth (the emotional component)," explains Dr Ashima Puri, consultant psychologist, New Delhi.
"Humour can actually change our feelings, thoughts, behaviours and biochemistry. It is a perfect self-care tool to cope with stress. We know that there is a connection between stress and high blood pressure, muscle tension, suppressed immunity and other diseases. Now studies have proven that laughter is the perfect antidote for stress," she adds.
So while stress is inevitable in life, it doesn’t have to take a physiological toll on us. You just need a good belly laugh to drive it away.
Split your sides
Besides its psychological benefits, laughter gives your body direct boost too. In fact, it has been found that intense and regular laughter increases the flow of oxygen through your body.
Dr Puri quotes a study conducted in the US. A group of people were given a funny video to watch, while another group watched a documentary. Afterwards, both groups were tested and those who had watched the comedy had higher levels of immunoglobulin A – a substance found in saliva and the first defence the body has against viruses and bacteria. Laughter provides exercise too. Hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine.
And here’s the clincher. Laughter can make you look younger. It tones facial muscles and leads to an increase of blood supply to the area, which nourishes facial skin.
Make it a habit
No one believes that laughter can cure a disease all by itself. But it can be used to strengthen both the mind and the body. Create a laughter first aid kit with humorous videos, books and cartoons and use it when you want to feel better. Or join a laughter club. Make laughter a priority. After all, it is free.
Laughter increases immunoglobin A which fights upper respiratory diseases.
It increases tolerance to pain by increasing levels of natural pain-killing opioids.
It brings in more oxygen and keeps the internal organs moving.
It raises immunity by boosting the production of white blood cells.
From HT Brunch, January 22
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