Friday, March 6, 2009

COULD LAUGHTER LOWER HEALTH CARE COSTS AND LENGTHEN LIFE?


How much can laughter help us? More and more people are weighing in on this question. Is it really the best medicine? I'd like to highlight a couple of studies that I find absolutely fascinating in their approach to this question.

LAUGHTER & HEALTH CARE COSTS

How can I afford health care? Isn't that the big question on everyone's mind these days? It is of great concern to many people around the world. It's a big issue in Japan, for example, because their population is aging and the fear is that health care costs will, thus bring down the whole economy in the coming years.

That's why the director of Japan's Foundation for Advancement of International Science, geneticist Kazuo Murakami, teamed up on a scientific study with stand-up comedians—no joke—to see if they could turn one-liners into efficient, low-cost medical treatment. In the course of the study, the 92 participants polled said their combined annual medicare costs fell 23 per cent to 2.26 million yen ($A26,256) after they joined the program.

Why would this happen? Well, genes are generally regarded as immutable, but in reality more than 90 per cent of them are dormant or less active in producing protein, so some types of stimulation can wake them up. Murakami's tentative theory is that laughter is one such stimulant, which can trigger energy inside a person's DNA potentially helping cure disease!

"If we prove people can switch genes on and off by an emotion like laughter, it may be the finding of the century which should be worth the Nobel Prize or even go beyond that," said Murakami.

It would take quite a bit more research to prove this theory, but Murakami's first study is encouraging. "If the relation between laughter and health is proved scientifically, it may have a big impact on ways to improve health," said Hikaru Horiguchi, an official of the ministry of economy, trade and industry in Japan.

"One day it won't be a joke to see patients receive a prescription for a comedy video at a pharmacy for medical treatment," says Murakami.


LAUGHTER & LONGEVITY

Meanwhile in Norway, Sven Svebak of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Medical School has been studying how laughter and longevity are linked. The focus of this study was not specifically laughter but a humorous outlook on life—which, by the way, laughter yoga can help cultivate. How much you laugh your way through life may have an impact on how long your life is.

Svebak and his colleagues surveyed about 54,000 Norwegians to gauge how easily the study participants found humor in real-life situations and how much they enjoyed being with people who brought out their sense of humor. After 7 years, the participants who scored in the top quarter for humor appreciation were 35 percent more likely to be alive than those in the bottom quarter. The effect was more than twice as strong among a subgroup of participants who had a cancer diagnosis at the beginning of the study: Those who appreciated humor were 75 percent more likely to be alive.

75 percent more likely to be alive? This is an amazing finding! Yet it makes sense because the mind and body are connected, so the more happy the mind is, the more happy the body is. Those with cancer and other serious illnesses can strengthen their outcomes simply by having a more light-hearted approach. Some laughter yoga practitioners work exclusively with cancer patients for this very reason. When we are ill, we cannot afford not to laugh.


LAUGHING LAURA'S REFLECTIONS

The study of laughter is still a relatively new field and there is much to be uncovered. Yet, what has already been shown through research is nothing short of remarkable. Laughter may, indeed, be the miracle drug to keep our health care costs manageable and lengthen our lives—not to mention it's a whole lot of fun. Laughter yoga is such an easy way to harness the proven power of laughter. That's why I am so excited to be doing this work and teaching it to others. Laughter therapy, I believe, will keep gaining ground.

So go ahead and laugh, it may just save your life!

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