From the Heart

Boosting heart health.

Laughter Improves Overall Health

Find a reason to laugh everyday.

Do happier people live longer? A vast scientific literature has detailed how negative emotions harm the body. Serious, sustained stress, anger, and fear can alter biological systems in a way that over time adds up to "wear and tear"—and, eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Research shows that laughter does indeed improve our health and well-being. If you can laugh when you are stressed, anxious, worried, and even if you are ill, you can feel better sooner.

An old Yiddish proverb says, "What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." We all know that laughter makes us feel good and puts us in high spirits, but did you also know that laughter actually causes physiological responses that protect the body from disease and help your vital organs repair themselves? Laughter is similar to a mild workout: A good laugh contracts your abdominal muscles, gets the blood flowing, decreases blood pressure and stress hormones, improves sleeping patterns and boosts the immune system by increasing the number of T-cells in your body. Yet despite the fact that laughter has so many benefits, far too many of us forget to even crack a smile every once in a while, let alone laugh. Many of us have lost the ability to unselfconsciously roar with laughter like we used to when we were young children. It is time you claim back your laughter and express pure joy without any inhibitions.The following are some ways to incorporate more laughter and joy in your life: 

Drop the stress and don't take life too seriously. We all have obstacles in life and we all make mistakes. There is no reason to beat yourself up over it. Stressing about something you can't immediately change will only make matters worse. In fact, if you can laugh light-heartedly at your own foibles, you'll find that you give yourself that extra happiness and confidence boost that can get you over any hurdle. This also extends to other people. Try not to be too hard on others—a smile and a chuckle go a lot further than criticism.

• Find the humor in a bad situation. Sure, there are some situations that are genuinely sad and certainly not laughing matters. However, most situations in life have an ironic or ludicrous aspect. The next time you feel your stress level rising, take a minute to think about the irony of the situation and allow yourself to laugh over the things you cannot control. This will decrease the amount of cortisol that your body produces due to stress, lowering your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and heart rate. 

• Remind yourself of funny moments from the past. Perhaps a friend told you a great joke the other day, your children or pets did something amusing, or maybe you watched a funny movie recently that had you in stitches. Call on these memories frequently, especially when you are feeling sad, angry or stressed. Sometimes just reliving a funny moment can cause the endorphins to kick in, which act as natural painkillers and mood boosters. 

• Surround yourself with fun people who like to laugh a lot. As the saying goes, mirthful laughter is contagious, so make a point to seek out positive people who aren't afraid to laugh at themselves and who have a knack for finding humor in life's situations. Studies suggest that having a happy friend or family member who lives within a mile of you appears to increase the probability, up to 15 percent, that you will be happy too. Young children are especially adept at finding laughter and joy in everyday moments.

• Get a pet. Animals are great for boosting happiness and encouraging laughter because they love to play and have fun, and they often do things that are amusing without even realizing it. In addition, studies show that people with pets have lower levels of depression and stress and are less likely to suffer from heart disease.

Meditate. Studies show that relaxation techniques that focus on a mind/body practice can help release tension. Reasearch shows that people who meditate have improved sense of calm and wellness.  

• Eat foods that increase feelings of joy. When going through a stressful time, most people tend to feed their bodies unhealthy high-sugar and high-salt foods. Although these foods might taste good in the moment, eating this way all the time can have negative side effects, such as weight gain, high blood pressure, migraines, and diabetes. The key to help eliminate stress is eating a well-balanced diet full of foods that increase positive energy such as salmon, spinach, avocado, dark chocolate, and berries, which all contain essential vitamins that assist the body in feeling happy. 

If you can find a reason to laugh every day, you'll find that your mood will improve, your relationships with others will seem more meaningful and effortless, and life's hurdles won't seem so daunting. Moreover, your body, mind and soul will reap the health benefits of this natural and free medicine.

 

For more by Dr. Cynthia Thaik on her website

 

For preview of her upcoming book: Your Vibrant Heart

 

Follow Dr. Cynthia Thaik on Facebook: DrCynthiaMD

Cynthia Thaik, M.D., is a Harvard trained physician and currently an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine

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