Karyn Buxman, MSN, CSP
Life must be lived as play. Plato
Ed Shanks shifts his weight, getting comfortable in the Lazy-Boy
while the nurse adjusts the drip rate of his chemotherapy. He picks up
the remote control and flips on the video tape he has chosen, "The Best
of Laurel and Hardy."
Sound appropriate? Sure is. Is it beneficial? You bet. Patients of
all kinds are discovering the numerous healthy benefits of humor.
Benefits of Laughter:
Scientists are now finding evidence to support what most of us have
suspected all along: that humor and laughter are good for you. William
Fry, PhD, of Stanford University in California and one of the leading
researchers in the field of humor physiology, states that humor, mirth
and laughter have impact on most, if not all, of the major human body
|While Ed is laughing at Laurel and Hardy, what's going on in his
During his laughter, Ed's heart is exercised by an increased heart
rate and blood pressure that is then followed by a relaxation phase.
This in turn, results in improved circulation.
In Ed's gastrointestinal system, the muscles involved in the act of
laughter massage internal organs resulting in enhanced digestion.
In the respiratory system, laughter enhances the intake of
oxygen-rich air. When Ed laughs, he inhales more deeply and then
forcefully exhales air at rates up to 70 MPH!
Ed doesn't experience muscle tension during the moments he is
laughing. In Ed's musculo-skeletal system, his muscles are stimulated
and then become relaxed. This explains why individuals frequently lean
over or hold on to something during a robust laugh, becoming "weak with
laughter." Dr. Fry likens the effects of laughter to physical exercise.
While laughing may not compare episode for episode with marathon
running or swimming, it doesn't require a specific time block or
equipment. This makes it especially appealing to those who are home
bound or confined to a bed or wheel chair.
Despite the fact that clinical evidence supports making humor and
laughter part of the health regimen, many people are reluctant to take
the plunge. This occurs for several reasons. One is that laughter and
play are undervalued in our culture.
According to Dr. O. Carl Simonton, medical director of the Simonton
Cancer Center and co-author of The Healing Journey, some patients and
their families have been scolded for having a good time. They risk
hearing comments such as, "You aren't taking your illness seriously
enough" or "How can you enjoy yourself when your loved one is dying?"
And yet play is one of the key components to the healing process.
Many folks want to put off playing until they feel better. But it is
important to note that you shouldn't wait until you feel better to play;
you play and then feel better. Simonton says that play helps shift our
perspective, increases our flexibility, raises our energy levels, boosts
our will and desire to live, and moves our body in a healthy direction.
What can you do to increase your "laughter factor"?
To start with, give yourself permission to laugh. Recognize that
laughing is beneficial for you and your loved ones and that you're
taking positive steps toward an action plan for better health. Make a
conscious effort to put humor into your daily routine.
At the Simonton Institute, patients are encouraged to strive for one
hour of play per day, seven days a week. This includes weekends,
holidays and vacations. As an exercise, Simonton has his patients list
40 activities, half of which cost less than $5 each. He explains that
it's important to have a long list of options, because when you need
play the most may be when you have the hardest time thinking of
something fun to do.
Keep props handy. Visit a toy department and buy yourself a toy all
your own. Koosh Balls are a great place to start. They are bright
colored, have a stimulating texture, and can be used for a variety of
things including juggling.
Start keeping a humor diary of things you find funny, whether they
are jokes, anecdotes, signs, memos, license plates, or cartoons. Then
refer to this diary on the days when your energy and spirits are
Start your own collection of humorous books, tapes, and videos. Look
into organizations that promote therapeutic humor such as The American
Association for Therapeutic Humor and The Fellowship of Merry
Christians. They provide periodic newsletters that are available at
relatively low cost to keep you abreast of the latest developments in
this fast growing field.
Make a contract with yourself to incorporate some type of humor into
your life immediately and on a regular basis. Unintentional humor is
terrific when it happens, but humor has too many benefits to let it
happen by chance.