Living Well

Laughter could be just what the doctor ordered

Michael Puente, MD
Laughter could be just what the doctor ordered

The phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” was coined in 1913, though its origin is related to a Welsh proverb dated 1866. The point is that healthy eating habits have long-term benefits. There’s another thing that can also lead to a healthier life, and the best things about it, it costs you nothing - it’s laughter. Yes, laughter can be just what the doctor ordered if you feel a little down or out of sync, as laughing has some remarkable and positive side effects.

A hearty laugh produces health benefits

We have all been under a tremendous amount of stress over the last year with COVID-19, and at times, laughter seemed to be as scarce as toilet paper! But think back to when you had a really hearty laugh and how it made you feel. More than likely, you experienced what is known as a ‘natural high;’ runners also experience this after an intense workout. That high is due to something known as endorphins, which are neurochemicals our bodies produce that impact our opiate receptors in our brain. In other words, endorphins work as a natural pain killer that also gives us a sense of enhanced pleasure, and a good laugh is one way to boost the production of endorphins.

Laughter can also help in many other ways:

  • It forms social bonds – if you are in a group and someone starts laughing, others join in, and this promotes a sense of togetherness
  • It is central to relationships – studies have shown that couples who laugh together have higher-quality relationships; women even rate a sense of humor as one of the top three traits in a potential mate
  • It also produces serotonin, that same brain chemical that acts as a natural antidepressant, so a burst of laughter can positively impact your mood and reduce stress
  • It improves blood flow, which can help protect against cardiovascular problems, among many other things

And it’s not just adults who can benefit from laughter; children, especially those who are hospitalized, can greatly benefit from a good laugh. Researchers in Brazil and Canada reviewed clinical trials where clowns visited hospitalized children. The studies centered on the children’s behaviors when it came to anxiety, pain tolerance, and psychological and emotional response to being hospitalized. The research found that the children, both those with short-term and long-term illnesses, who clowns entertained had significantly less anxiety, reduced stress, and experienced improved well-being than those treated with standard care. Regardless of age, laughter can go a long way to help improve your physical and emotional health and should be something we strive to do daily as it can be just what’s needed to get through some tough times.

Easy steps you can take to bring more laughter into your life

Laughter is one of those things in life that should come easy, and for some, it does. Think about a young child who starts laughing intensely about something, and what happens? Those around the child start laughing as well, even if they don’t know what prompted the giggles. Laughter is contagious, and everyone needs a good laugh now and then, and there are some easy steps you can take to incorporate a little humor into your life:

  • Spend time with fun people as they tend to laugh easily, and that can get you going as well; a lighthearted, humorous person can brighten your day in an instant
  • When appropriate, bring humor to conversations as that tends to lighten the mood and can lead to a good laugh
  • Like laughter, a smile can also be contagious, so smile at others as that simple jester can lift your day and create laughter
  • And, as much as possible, count your blessing rather than focus on what’s not going well in your life, as being optimistic is more likely to open you up to laughter, and again, that laughter may be the best medicine you need for the day

About Dr. Michael Puente
Dr. Puente was born in Havana, Cuba and the story about how he arrived in the United States is one for the history books. In 1961, with his parents already in the United States, a two-year-old Dr. Puente was placed on the last “freedom flight” out of Cuba. When the plane landed in Miami, young Michael Puente was placed into the arms of his mother. Dr. Puente completed his undergraduate studies at Tulane University and graduated Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. As a leading neurologist in the region, Dr. Puente focuses on all aspects of his patient’s health, including diet, which he says plays a large role in health issues we face today, especially when it comes to stroke. Dr. Puente points to unhealthy foods, like creamy sauces, fried and fatty foods and the high rate of cigarette smoking as major concerns when it comes to health. In addition to his interest in general neurology, Dr. Puente, is board certified in neurology, also focuses on vascular disease, and is involved in various clinical studies for the treatment of stroke.