Why laughter is the best medicine.

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Why laughter is the best medicine.

Our unserious side is being taken seriously by doctors.

Laughing helps you fight illness – and gets you fit.

But how it works is still being puzzled out.

A group of adults are lying in a circle on the floor listening to a recording of ”The Laughing Policeman”. At first everyone feels ridiculous and there’s only the odd nervous giggle, but suddenly the laughter becomes real. It quickly spreads around the room until everyone is infected by it.

Doctors are starting to believe that laughter not only improves your state of mind, but actually affects your entire physical well-being. The people lying in a circle are attending a workshop to learn the forgotten art of laughter. This is laughter therapy in action.

Britain’s first laughter therapist, Robert Holden says: ‘Instinctively we know that laughing helps us feel healthy and alive. Each time we laugh we feel better and more content.’

But we could be losing our ability to laugh. A French newspaper found that in 1930 the French laughed on average for nineteen minutes per day. By 1980 this had fallen to six minutes. Eighty per cent of the people questioned said that they would like to laugh more. Other research suggests that children laugh on average about 400 times a day, but by the time they reach adulthood this has been reduced to about fifteen times. Somewhere in the process of growing up we lose an astonishing 385 laughs a day.

William Fry – a psyciatrist from California – studied the effects of laughter on the body. He got patience to watch Laurel and Hardy films, and monitored their blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tone. He found that laughter has a similar effect to physical exercise. It speeds up the heart rate, increases blood pressure and quickens breathing. It also makes our facial and stomach muscles work. Fry thinks laughter is a type of jogging on the spot. Laughter can even provide a kind of pain and relief. Fry has proved that laughter produces endorphins – chemicals in the body that relieve pain.

Researcheres from Texas tested this. They divided forty university students into four groups. The first group listened to a funny cassette for twenty minutes, the second listened to a cassette intended to relax them, the third heard an informative tape, while the fourth group listened to no tape at all.

Researcheres found that if they produced pain in the students, those who had listened to the humorous tape could tolerate the discomfort for much longer.

Patch Adams is both a doctor and a performing clown in Virginia, America. He is convinced that humour should be a part of every medical consultation. ‘There’s evidence to suggest that laughter stimulates the immune system, ’says Adams, ‘yet hospitals and clinics are well-known for their depressing atmospheres.’ Adams practises what he preaches. He wears his waist-length hair in a ponytail and also has a handlebar moustache. He usually puts on a red nose when seeing patients.

Long life

Scientists are finally beginning to unlock the secret everyone has dying to know: just how long can we live? They confidently predict that in the 21st century people will be living to the incredible age of 130. And this is just the start.

Experts studying the process of ageing believe it is possible that people will live long enough to have great-great-great-grandchildren. This belief is based on research and on fact that more and more people are living to be 100 as our general health improves. There are around 4000 people over the age of 100 in Britain – ten times more than 30 years ago.

Dr. Vijg, a Dutch biologist, is the head of a project studying the growing number of old people in the population. He and his team are focusing their attention on human genes, which they think may hold the key to what kills us, early or late in life.

A century ago average life expectancy in Europe was 45. Today, providing we look after ourselves, drive our cars carefully, and cut down on things like butter, alcohol and cigarettes, we can add nearly 30 years to that figure. Within the next ten years, we may all have added a couple more years on top of that.

But that is nothing, compared to what will happen once scientists have discovered our genetic secrets.

Some of the problem genes, like those that cause haemorphilia, have already been tracked down. Dr. Vijg says: ’Nobody dies from old age – just diseases that affect people as they get older.’ And he forecasts that within 30 years, science will be preparing people for a long life.’ Already the killer diseases are being eradicated,’ he says. ‘About 50% of cancers are curable, and i really believe that this will increase to 80%.’

Doctors also believe that the death rate from the biggest killers – diseases of the circulatory system will decline as man comes to his senses by giving up smoking and eating more healthily. Dr. Vijg points to experiments with animals in laboratories. ‘Those given less food, but of a higher quality, lived to the human equivalent of 150 years’.

Dr. Vijg believes that as life span increases, so will other expectations. Women will be having babies at an older age. ‘Already, more and more are having their first child when they are over 30,’he says. ‘In other ten years people might think it normal for a woman of 50 to be having her first child.’

What about living forever? Will eternal life ever become reality? ‘So far, that is science fiction,’ says Dr. Vijg. ‘Theoretically it is possible, but it will be another hundred, perhaps two hundred years before we know all secrets of our genes.’

Are you on top of the world?

Some things that can make you feel better...

These days most doctors and scientists agree that our physical health is closely related to our psychological well-being. ut just what have the experts discovered about what makes us feel good?

Getting moving

As well as being important to your physical health, regular exercise is now believed to improve your psychological state by releasing endorphins or ‘happy chemicals’ into the brain. Some researches consider it can be just as valuable as psychotherapy in helping depression, and engendering a more positive outlook. Even a brisk ten-minute walk every day can help according to researches. In one project, unemployed urban youths who undertook intensive sports training for several months, not only became involved in that sport, but also in other activities such as study, politics, and voluntary work.


A lively social life.


According to experts, companionship and social support are vital to both our psychological and physical well-being – one reason, perhaps, why married people tend to live longer than unmarried ones. Modern researches emphasize the value of group social activities in this respect. ‘Relationships we form at church or in clubs tend to be more supportive and uncritical than those we form at work or in the family’, says Professor Michael Argyle, of Oxford Brookes University,’and these positive relationships improve our self-esteem,which is vital to our physical and mental health.’This is backed up by recent research which shows, perhaps surprisingly , that people who spend more time with others actually get fewer colds and viruses than those who stay at home on their own. In fact social support is so important to our mental and physical well-being that it may even increase our life expectancy! Another piece of research found that people who belong to strong church groups, not only claim to be happier than those who don’t, they suffer from less than half the number of heart attacks than the rest of the population, and live up to four years longer!



Many scientists these days believe that indulging is life’s little pleasures – a bar of chocolate, a glass of wine, a shopping trip, even a cigarette – can actually improve your health, because of the psychological lift it gives you. There is evidence, for example, that old people living in residential homes who have a cocktail hour each day actually live longer! Indulging – in moderation – in the small pleasures of life can make people calmer, alleviate stress and provide positive health benefits. There is a lot of truth in the old saying that “a little of what you fancy does you good.”


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