More Laughter May Be Just What the Doctor Ordered


Laughter can be good for your health, for your marriage--and even for your physical fitness.

Humor can be an important tool in any intimate relationship, according to an article in the current issue of Redbook, and studies indicate it can have health benefits from aiding the immune system to sharing some of the benefits of aerobics.

“Laughter is good exercise--it’s like running or swimming or rowing,” said Dr. William F. Fry, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at California’s Stanford University Medical School.


Fry’s research indicates laughter increases the heart rate, works the muscles of the face and stomach, enhances circulation and quickens breathing.

Fry found in his own case that 10 seconds of belly laughter raised his heart rate to a level that would take 10 minutes of rowing to reach. A good laugh also ventilates the lungs because we exhale more air than normal and bring in more oxygen.

“That’s why laughing feels good,” Fry said. “It’s like having your own individual oxygen tank.”

Laughing has many other benefits as well. In a recent survey of 30 family therapists, Fred Piercy, a professor of family therapy at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., found that nearly all used humor to halt fights in their own marriages.

“Laughter diverts attention from anger and negative feelings,” he said.

Humor also can be used to point out minor annoyances, said Anna Beth Benningfield, a Dallas family therapist, “because your husband is less likely to get defensive.” She added:

“To appreciate humorous things together adds an extra dimension to a friendship.”

Mirth also can be good medicine. Scientists have long known that when we are anxious, our bodies release large doses of stress hormones, which are helpful if we plan to flee a wild boar. For more ordinary stresses, these hormones are overkill. They may even be harmful because, studies indicate, they suppress our immune system and make us more vulnerable to disease.


One study shows laughter could have the opposite effect. At the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California, 10 male hospital workers were hooked up to intravenous catheters. Half the men were shown a funny movie while the control half sat quietly in a room.

Blood samples were collected every 10 minutes and analyzed for immune-suppressing hormones. The findings: stress hormone levels remained steady in the control group, but plummeted in the laughter group.

“There are beneficial physical effects to being happy,” Loma Linda’s Lee S. Berk said.

Kathleen Dillon, professor of psychology at Western New England College said there may be long-term benefits in daily laughter. She compared the subjects’ level of Immunoglobin A (IgA) with their scores on a humor-coping questionnaire.

“The people who used humor more often as a coping device in everyday life had higher IgA levels to begin with, even before the funny movie,” she said.

Laughter can even be a help in the job market. In a 1985 survey by the recruiting firm of Robert Half International, 84 of 100 personnel directors and vice presidents from 1,000 of the nation’s largest corporations agreed with this statement: “People with a sense of humor do better at their job than those who have little or no sense of humor.”

Company President Robert Half told Patti Jones in Redbook that he believes the replies were based on a hunch that “people with a sense of humor tend to be more creative, less rigid and more willing to consider and embrace new ideas and methods.”