Laugh and play your
way to better health

When was the last time you dreamed of being a prince or princess in a far-away mystical world, played hide and seek or told a funny joke? Turned any of your friends into frogs lately?

Spend time with a child, and you will be reminded of a magical world where you could laugh and play for hours and let your imagination run wild. As adults, however, reality steps in. As we struggle to manage careers, families and personal lives, finding (or taking) the time to play and have fun takes a back seat to more important matters. But in recent years, the scientific and academic communities have focused attention on studying the health benefits-both physical and psychological-of laughter and play, and the results will make you smile.

Much of the research on laughter has revealed a very important benefit: laughter seems to enhance the immune system. The immune-enhancing powers of laughter are believed to be due to an increase in the production of immune enhancers and a decrease in the production of stress hormones, which weaken immunity. Research conducted by Lee Berk, an immunologist at California's Loma Linda University Medical Center, has centered on these areas and supports the idea that not only does laughing have beneficial effects on the immune system, it may even combat certain diseases.

Laughter also is believed to literally make people feel better, and as a result, many hospitals and medical clinics have started to utilize laughter and humor in unique ways to promote the health of patients. "Humor rooms" with funny posters, books and magazines; "humor stations" that air funny television programs 24 hours a day; and "laugh wagons" from which patients can check out videotapes, books and games are popping up in hospitals across the country. This trend toward using humor as a way of boosting both physical and mental health has spread to private practice as well, and many health professionals are looking for ways to boost their own "humor health." Conferences such as the fifth annual "Humor Skills for the Health Professional" and organizations such as Nurses for Laughter (NFL) attest to this trend.

Laughter appears to have many positive psychological benefits, including increased self-esteem, increased creativity and improved coping abilities. People who tend to have a humorous outlook on life also report experiencing less stress. Steve Allen Jr, M.D., son of comedian Steve Allen and a frequent lecturer on the health benefits of laughter and play, believes that "laughter is not only as good a method of stress relief as a massage, a hot bath or exercise, it's also essential to stress relief." Even the corporate world is embracing this belief. Large companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and General Foods have initiated "humor programs" to help their employees develop a sense of humor and playfulness, and report that participants are better able to deal with stress and exhibit an overall improvement in job performance.

We have often heard that laughter is the best medicine. Why not give yourself a big dose of humor in 1997 and laugh and play your way to better health?

For more information on the therapeutic effects of humor, laughter and play, contact: The American Association for Therapeutic Humor
222 S. Meramec Suite 303
St. Louis, MO 63105

The Humor Project
10 Spring Street

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Russell Schoen graduated from Emory in 1995 with a degree in psychology. He is currently a health science specialist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Atlanta.

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