Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter is thought to be a super-balancer in that it reverses unhealthy stress reactions and helps various treatments work better so that you can enjoy life more.

by Becca Briley-West — 

Laughter really is the best medicine. You have heard it said countless times in your life, right? After a serious laughing session with someone, you may have heard him respond, “Wow, thanks, I needed that.” Well, we all  benefit from a good laugh once in a while, and we all probably benefit in our own unique ways.

Take a moment and think about it — what does laughter do for you? Is the old adage about laughter true? Laughter is thought to be a super-balancer in that it reverses unhealthy stress reactions and helps various treatments work better so that you can enjoy life more.

The director of cardiac rehabilitation for Banner Desert Hospital, Dr. David Kassel, says that laughter does appear to have some physical effects on the body, but it is hard to determine how beneficial they actually are. “Endorphins get released, the brain is in a happier mode, which may help arteries relax, meaning they may carry more blood flow to critical organs,” says Kassel. “Unfortunately, whether that is a significant feature that helps somebody — that is something we just do not know.”

Debbie White, who has been attending group meetings at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA) laughter club for two years said, “I have had some problems sleeping, but when I leave here, I go home and go right to sleep.”

Linda Scharf, a certified laughter leader at SWIHA, started the group a few years ago, after recognizing the benefits she got from laughter therapy during her recovery from cancer treatments. “Emotionally, it was such a lift, and physically, it always made me feel very energized; at the same time, you feel relaxed,” said Scharf. As for laughter being the best medicine, she simply points out that with laughter, there are no bad side effects.

Carmen Marrero, another certified laughter leader at SWIHA, says that laughing naturally burns calories and requires the use of muscles you do not normally use; thus, it is a good workout. “When we laugh, the brain simultaneously makes gestures and sounds; 15 facial muscles contract. Nerves sent to the brain trigger electrical impulses to set off chemical reactions, which release natural tranquilizers, pain relievers and endorphins,” says Marrero, who also works with Parkinson’s patients.

Marrero adds, “Parkinson’s patients in advanced stages do not show much emotion in their facial structure; they have a hard time moving the facial muscles as they become very stiff. Their attempt at preventing the tremor makes the muscle tense. This is what I have noticed when working with Parkinson’s patients from the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center. It has given me the opportunity to see them laugh and become relaxed. The contiguous laughter produces joy, allowing their bodies to become distracted from their struggles. Their attitudes change as they also struggle with depression. All in all, it is beneficial for anyone, patient or not.”

As you already know, laughter is one of the best medicines in life. Did you know that there are clubs just for the healing powers of laughter? The Ha Ha Laughter Club (SWIHA) is a local one, with much fun to be had. Meetings are held the second Friday of each month at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts’ main campus, located at 1100 E. Apache, Tempe, 85281 (480-994-9244).  The general public is welcome, and as the saying goes, “Live well, laugh often and love much.”

Becca Briley-West is an e-marketing specialist at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe, Ariz. 480-994-9244.


Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 1, Feb/Mar 2012.

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