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BY LISA PROFERA MD
As you get caught up in the busy holiday season, take some time to laugh. My advice one year ago in the first issue of BRICK discussed ways to stress less over the holidays. Now that we have hit the one-year anniversary of this wonderful magazine, I hope that you have benefitted from the helpful perspectives and practices shared by all of the authors this year. Holiday time can be a time of stress, but we can keep that to a minimum and place the focus back onto joy. Taking time to laugh can help.
You may have heard the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine.” This concept, derived from a Biblical proverb, is commonly accepted today. Who doesn’t feel better after a good laugh? Laughter can be contagious, as a good comedian knows. Humor is universal; it’s present in all cultures. We don’t necessarily need to speak the same language to find a situation funny. Babies laugh spontaneously before they can speak. Just search “babies laughing” on YouTube for some uplifting, unbridled laughter in its purest form.
Gelotology is the science of laughter. This field of study was pioneered by William Fry at Stanford University. By taking his own blood samples in the early 1960s after watching funny movies, he demonstrated improvements in immune function. The healing powers of laughter were extolled and published in the New England Journal of Medicine over 40 years ago (Norman Cousins, 1976). To quote Harvard University psychiatrist George Valliant, “Humor is one of the truly elegant defenses in the human repertoire…humor, like hope, is one of mankind’s most potent antidotes for the woes of Pandora’s box.”
The physical act of laughing expands the lungs and engages muscles in the chest and abdomen, which improves oxygenation, blood flow, and digestion. Think of it as a mini work-out for your thorax. Have you ever laughed so hard you had to catch your breath?
Laughter can improve our psychological and physiological health. Beneficial psychological effects such as stress reduction, improved mood, and decreased pain perception have been reported. Laughter in psychotherapy is especially effective when both the psychotherapist and the patient laugh together. It’s a win-win for both.
Physiologically speaking, mirthful laughter releases beta-endorphins, which have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system by causing the release of nitric oxide. This improves blood flow and reduces intravascular inflammation (a cause of heart disease). The natural “opioids” released by laughing not only make us feel emotionally better, but make our bodies function better and feel less pain. Japanese researchers have found that laughter lowered blood glucose levels in patients with type II diabetes by altering gene expression. Research on the effects of mirthful laughter in cancer patients showed that the physical act of laughing improved function of natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells eliminate bad or dysfunctional cells in our systems, such as those infected by a virus or those that have become cancerous.
This holiday season, take joy in the simple things — friends, family and fun. Be silly, channel your inner child, and find humor anywhere you can. Try to eliminate as much negativity as possible. The news is rife with crisis after crisis, which takes a toll on our health. Turn off the news and watch the comedy channel. I challenge you to keep stress at a minimum and substitute humor and laughter in its place as much as possible. Why? Because this will keep you younger and healthier in the long run.
By blocking the stress-cortisol response, laughter can be an antidote for holiday hassles. My prescription for this month is ten minutes of laughter a day — it does a body good.
Instead of just typing LOL, go ahead and do it!
Happy Holidays to you all, and thank you for reading BRICK for the last 12 months.
Lisa Profera MD | Owner and Founder of PROJUVU MD Aesthetics and Lifestyle Medicine
Originally from New York, Dr. Profera received both a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and an MD from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After completing residency at the University of Michigan, she worked as a primary care pediatrician in Ann Arbor for twenty-three years.She is passionate about integrating the best practices of Aesthetics and Rejuvenative Medicine to help patients look better and feel better. She believes in “projuvenation”; being proactive about rejuvenation and defying the aging process both inside and out. Dr. Profera and her husband live in downtown Ann Arbor and they have two daughters in college. Projuvu on facebook
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