By Jean Youkers
Much has been written about the health benefits of humor and laughter. In fact, an exhaustive search of the literature failed to turn up a single downside to enjoying a
jovial attitude, including everything from a sedate chuckle to a rip-roaring belly laugh.
Looking at the humorous aspects of challenging or even crisis situations allows us to
keep things in perspective. It can lighten our anxiety about mastering a rigorous new
workout at HAC or any new experience. A good laugh might be a prescription for prevention of disease, as it is said to aid in sleep, digestion, heart health and even boosting our immune system. And (bonus!) there are no premiums or co-pays
for laughter, or limits to the benefit.
But how does it work? They say that laughter releases endorphins, but what exactly
is an endorphin? I asked HAC member Mart Amick, MD, of Internal Medicine Associates.
“Endorphins are hormones found in the body that make you feel good,” he explained.
Endorphins are responsible for “runner’s high” because they make the body relax, open up the blood vessels, and give a sense of well-being. Studies have shown that the physical act of laughing gets more blood flowing to the brain and the skin, which is why your face turns red.
Mart, who may be seen running with a group around HAC, among other places, says
that enjoyment of interacting with others and a sense of humor make for a more pleasant workout. In his group, there is almost always “some sort of laughter and frivolity.” Instead of concentrating on the physical task, they occupy themselves
with conversation. In his medical practice, Mart finds that humor can be a way of putting people at ease, which reduces stress.
Another dedicated HAC member, David Maged, MD, also of Internal Medicine Associates,
agrees with Mart that laughter is the best medicine. He, too, sets a good example by
exercising at HAC. “Mind and body go together,” he says. “A better frame of mind can
help, especially if you’re going through tough times.”
Happiness and a positive attitude help with healing, and although there are times to
be serious, humor is a way to “lighten a load even about a serious subject.” He cites the
example of Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who set out to combat a
terminal diagnosis by laughing at episodes of “The Marx Brothers” and “Candid Camera.”
David believes happiness is so important that it can be more powerful than diet and exercise for overall well-being. He finds that laughter can make a treadmill workout fly by when watching “Seinfeld” episodes. His advice on ways to foster a humorous outlook includes watching comedies, reading funny articles, and not taking yourself so seriously. Laughing with others is also an important part of being connected to them. “I really believe that a positive mental outlook makes life better,” David says.
Here at HAC, we are lucky to have wonderful classes, instructors, trainers, and
equipment to nurture our bodies and dietary consultation to promote healthy eating. These things also nourish our souls, especially when we are positive and enjoying the process. Even if we aren’t good at everything we try- which most of us are not-
we can seek out the humor in the situation as we keep trying the activity, or simply switch to another one. Humor is inevitably found from as early in the morning as 6
AM in the deep water classes, for example, where a vigorous workout and camaraderie
combine to wake us up. Even though we are serious about the exercise, joking makes it feel as if we’re just having fun. We leave feeling refreshed from the workout, enhanced by the positive atmosphere.
A dedicated swimmer, HAC member, Linda Blankenship, suffers from chronic pain due to ischial tuberosity resulting from an accident. It is painful for her to sit or stand for long in one position, but instead of feeling sorry for herself, she continues her regular routine of lap swimming, with modifications. Though she is eager to resume a more strenuous workout, Linda says the laughter with her pool pals, as well as with
grandchildren, has helped to make her pain more bearable. Cecily Sawyer Harmon,
LCSW, is a private practitioner social worker, as well as clergy at St. Thomas Parish and
chaplain at UD’s Episcopal Campus Ministry. Cecily has made HAC her “second home.”
In her social work practice, Cecily sees the benefit of humor in maintaining good mental health. “Laughter can be a catharsis, and a healthy sense of humor enables us to laugh at ourselves, keep things in perspective, and feel good about ourselves,” she says. “People who laugh together feel bonded,” Cecily continues. This is true among friends at HAC, as well as in the therapeutic alliance she forms with her clients. “Laughter decreases stress, depression, anxiety, and fear. When things are bad, you can make a joke.
“Humor and laughter can elevate mood, increase energy, and help us to perform
activities.” When asked how one can foster humor to achieve these benefits, Cecily said
that one way is by coming to HAC, “where everyone is so welcoming and positive, where
we are interested in ourselves and others, and where we take care of one another.”
The Mayo Clinic, which asserts that positive thoughts can help fight stress and
potentially more serious ailments, suggests keeping humorous photos, greeting
cards, comic strips, and books on hand for times when we need an added chuckle.
In my own experience, humor has always contributed to my positive outlook. The only
time I didn’t want to be kept in stitches was after a major surgery when I already was in
stitches. A clown walked into my hospital room and I held up my hand like a stop sign and said, “Don’t make me laugh!” He didn’t. I enjoyed laughing about the episode later.
I think the consensus is clear – injecting some humor into every day will make us
healthier, happier, and probably even wiser!