Exercising is good for you. Eating fruits and vegetables is too. But did you know that laughing—yes, giggling to your heart’s content—is also a valuable tool in the daily quest for good health?
Humor can help you heal. Laughter is cathartic, relaxing, stress-reducing and just plain fun. Evidence of its benefits, both anecdotal and empirical, has piled up for years. In his seminal book Anatomy of an Illness, the late Norman Cousins recalled a ritual he employed when he faced a life-threatening illness in the 1960s: He prescribed himself daily viewings of zany Marx Brothers movies. “Ten minutes of genuine belly laughter,” he wrote, “would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”
Scientists, too, maintain that laughter results in tangible benefits. One well-known study found 20 seconds of laughing gives your heart the same workout as three minutes on a rowing machine. Some studies have shown laughter helping the immune system and reducing blood pressure.
Toastmasters know all about the magic of mirth. Humorous speeches abound in clubs, providing listeners with a happy respite from pressure-filled days. Some members have taken their humor skills to new heights. Caron Keens, CC, is a Certified Laughter Leader™. These facilitators of funny preside over therapeutic sessions at laughter clubs around the globe, as part of the World Laughter Tour (worldlaughtertour.com). The sessions, held in settings as varied as business offices, fitness clubs, nursing homes and community centers, feature activities that stimulate laughter, with everyone guffawing in unison. Visual aids, games and discussions round out the routine.
Keens, a member of the South Okanagan Toastmasters in Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada, says the sessions truly make a difference for people. “I believe very often the benefits of laughter are overlooked and disregarded in today’s world,” she says. Keens says she has led many laughter sessions for healthcare workers. (For more about the value of humor in the healthcare arena, read about operating room nurse Cynthia Long, this month’s “Member Moment,” on page 6.)
Keyem Thomez, CC, CL, and Alexa Fong Drubay, CC, are other members helping to spread laughter and joy around the world. They both hold the title of Laughter Ambassador. Thomez, a member of a club in Bahrain, and Drubay, a member of a Springfield, Pennsylvania, club, lead classes in Laughter Yoga. Yes, that’s a thing. In this practice, breathing techniques are combined with laughing exercises, resulting in outbursts of communal glee.
Thomez and Drubay met up recently at the Global Laughter Yoga Conference in Frankfurt, Germany.
So take your humor seriously. Make sure you enjoy a good chuckle every day. After all, notes Keens, there’s another great benefit to laughter: It’s free.