Laughter Is Laughter the Best Medicine Essay

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Laughter

Is laughter the best medicine, as the expression often states? The research findings are mixed. Some researchers, such as Ronald Berk, point to the positive benefits of laughing. They conclude that humor causes psychological and physiological changes in the body that equate to aerobic exercises. Other researchers, such as Rod Martin, are skeptical about these results. He says, at best, the research is mixed. No definitive studies have actually proven the value of laughing. Yet, taken from a broader perspective, it can be asked: If there is any chance that laughter may be of help to those suffering from physical or psychological pain, why not attempt to use laughing as a "medicine"? It surely cannot hurt.

Berk (2001), at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, synthesized three decades of research that has been conducted on 15 psychophysiological advantages of humor and laughter, especially with the elderly. Based on the studies he reviewed, Berk found eight positive psychological benefits from laughter: Humor reduces anxiety, stress, depression, and loneliness, as well as improves self-esteem, restores hope and energy and provides a sense of empowerment and control. Physically, the description of laughter is translated into seven advantages involving the central nervous, muscular, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Berk (2001) also reports research findings that support mental functioning. It raises catecholamine levels in the body that enhance overall mental functioning. The post-laugh euphoric experience can be related to adequate functioning of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Despite the fact that these effects do not reverse the aging process, older adults who laugh on a regular basis will experience better interpersonal responsiveness, be more alert and have improved memory. In addition, reports Berk, laughter relaxes muscles and can be used as a means of exercise. Studies show that laughter requires the facial muscles to move in a coordinated fashion in 15 different ways, in addition to the need for spasmodic skeletal muscle contractions that consist of a large amount of muscle tissue. Laughter creates a complete response of the body that is clinically advantageous, exercising the facial, chest, abdominal and skeletal muscles. It relaxes tension in the neck, shoulders and abdominal muscles. This is especially important for those elderly who are in a wheelchair or bedridden.

According to Berk (2001), laughter also improves respiration by exercising the lungs and chest muscles and thus conditioning the lungs to improve respiration. These effects of laughter can help older patients who suffer with chronic respiratory illnesses, such as emphysema. It can also reduce the risk of bronchial infection and pneumonia. In regards to the circulatory system, laughter at first leads to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that exercises the myocardium and enhances arterial and venous circulation, which can be very helpful for the heart muscle as is aerobic exercise. This can be advantageous for the elderly who are sedentary due to physical limitations or disabilities. Stress hormones are also decreased with laughter, adds Berk. When the body is stressed, it secretes hormones. Laughter is known as eustress, or healthy stress, which positively affects the neuroendocrine and stress hormones. A number of studies also show that laughter enhances the immune system, for example, immunoglobulin in saliva, tears and intestinal secretions that defend against viral and bacterial infections. Finally, the effect of laughter on pain has been demonstrated through anecdotal, not quantitative, studies.

Berk's positive analysis of laughter is backed by others. Miller (2009) reports that a in study of 20 healthy people, laughing was as beneficial for arteries as aerobic activity. He explains that the endothelium regulates blood flow and adjusts the tendency of blood to coagulate and clot. It also secretes certain chemicals that responds to wounds, infection or irritation and plays a critical role in developing cardiovascular disease. It is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Thus, laughing may be important to maintaining a healthy endothelium and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. In the least, it can offset mental stress that harms endothelium. Miller suggests 30 minutes of exercise three times a week and 15 minutes of laughter daily is best for the vascular system. This, as noted by Berk, could have a positive impact on elderly who are presently sedentary.

Buchowsky et al. (2007) likewise measured energy expenditure and heart rate during an experience of genuine laughter when watching humorous and non-humorous film clips. They found that both energy expenditure and heart rate were positively correlated with laughter. Genuine voiced laughter causes a 10 to 20% increase in both of these factors, which means that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter each day could increase total energy expenditure.

Researchers as Berk, Miller and Buchowsky are challenged by Martin (2002), who analyzed 45 published studies that related to the correlation between laughter and health. He found "confused" results, instead of the positive ones as Berk. He argues that the studies do not conclusively show that laughter is good for health. There are a lot of small-scale studies that are not peer reviewed. For example, studies show that some changes occur in the immune system, but they are mixed, some show it increases the immune responses, other say it suppresses it. Some studies show laughter actually raises blood pressure in some men. He also mentions a life-cycle study of 1,178- to 12-year-olds, who were said to have the best sense of humor but had higher mortality rates over the decades. Perhaps, theorizes Martin, because of self-delusion.

Overall, Martin says that the existing empirical evidence about laughter and its effect on health benefits is "less convincing than what is often portrayed in popular-media reports (p. 219). Yet, despite these rather equivocal findings, there is a reason to pursue additional research that use more rigorous methodology with adequate controls and larger sample sizes. These studies also have to look at different kinds of laughter and which has a greater/lesser effect. He also states that it is important to look at the impact that a support system has in addition to laughter. It is known that positive individuals attract a larger social network, which may have an increased advantage for people. Martin stresses that he is not arguing that humor and laughter are not good for our health. He is just saying that the evidence, thus far, is mostly weak and inconclusive, and more empirical studies need to be performed.

Personally, I have seen the benefits of humor in many aspects of my life. I know that at times when I am feeling down or do not have a great deal of energy, I will feel much better when I get together with friends to talk and laugh or see a comedy. As Martin reports, I do not know whether I feel better because of the actual physical and psychological changes in my body due to laughing or because of the social network and being with friends. or, perhaps, it is more a cognitive behavioral response in that my mind is being taken away from any negative thoughts and thus I feel better. Regardless, if it seems to help, I will continue to use this response for when I am feeling low. It is better than staying home alone and dwelling on the negative. Even putting on the television and watching a humorous show or movie or reading a light book can help sometimes. Again, it takes my mind off everything.

I've seen the same thing now with my friends and with my family when I was growing up. When someone was down, the best thing to do was go out and have some fun, be it watching or participating in a sport, seeing a movie or just getting together and talking with other friends and family members. At work, there is nothing better… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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