The last time we went to visit family in Nevada, we went to see a show called “Piff the Magic Dragon.” I had seen this act on “America’s Got Talent,” in which an odd little man from England comes on stage dressed entirely as a dragon, carrying a tiny, white chihuahua named Mr. Piffles. My first reaction was about the same as Simon Cowell, the ever-skeptical judge and creator of the show. “Oh dear, here we go.” Nobody — including Simon or me — expected this guy to be hilarious, let alone a very talented magician! 

When I saw the billboards advertising this act, I called our friends in town and asked if they wanted to go and they agreed. Thanks to our friends and a little luck, when we got to the show we were offered front-row seats. By the end of the performance my face hurt from laughing and I got to meet Piff and hold Mr. Piffles. My bucket list had another thing crossed off, thanks to our generous friends.

I would rather see a comedian more than any other kind of show. If the writing is good, I also prefer movies that make me laugh. I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine and many professionals agree with me. The Mayo Clinic reports that laughter can help you live longer, that a good sense of humor can help with emotional issues and laughter is proven to help deter certain physical ailments.

Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain and emotional conflict. Nothing works faster to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor is proven to lift your spirits, lighten your load and add hope. If you see a group of people who are enjoying a funny conversation, you can tell by their body language that they are connected in a wonderful way. Laughter helps you release anger because when you’re laughing, almost nothing seems capable of overtaking it. When faced with unexpected hilarity, arguments abruptly end. When both of you are smiling and sharing a good belly laugh, you simply cannot go on fighting.

So many of us — young and old — are stressed. Kids in school feel a ton of pressure to do well and compete with their peers. The working generation is under the gun to succeed, to earn promotions and raises, not to mention the stress of hunting down a job. As retired seniors, we’re faced with health issues, money management and the loss of our peers. No one escapes the daily woes of life, but finding the humor in things affords us a fighting chance to conquer adversity with a sense of lightness. Best of all, this priceless, natural medicine is fun, free and easy to use.

Laughter relaxes the whole body, relieving physical tension and stress. A good dose of funny time can relax your muscles for up to 45 minutes afterward, according to WebMD. It boosts the immune system and decreases stress hormones which, in turn, increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies that improve your resistance to disease. 

This may all sound too good to be true but, all joking aside, it’s a real thing! When we enjoy a good laugh, the body triggers the release of natural endorphins that promote an overall sense of well-being. They can even temporarily relieve pain. What about the heart? Yup. Laughter improves the blood vessel functions and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. By easing tension, laughter can also stimulate circulation and relax muscles.

Here’s the best part. Laughter burns calories. OK, so it’s no replacement for my treadmill. But one study found that laughing for 10-15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories. That’s a start! In fact, laughter actually stimulates many of our organs. By increasing oxygen intake, it improves your lung health. 

So far, I can’t find a single downside to enjoying humor. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who don’t laugh as frequently. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer. I’m not suggesting it’s a cure for anything, but apparently it can make a significant  difference during our more challenging times. 

Sharing humor is half the fun and it’s contagious. Personally, I crack up when I hear someone laughing, especially my grandchildren. Spending time with loved ones and enjoying upbeat, kind conversation is a wonderful inducement for good mental health. And when you, too, share a laugh, you’ll feel happier, more relaxed and enlivened. I know it works for me.

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at marla2054@aol.com.

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