Monday, November 13, 2006

Laughter and Babies

Most babies show their very first smile somewhere around the four-week mark. It is believed that the very first smile is not intentional but comes about more or less by accident. Babies note the happy reaction they receive from their parents after they have smiled and then begin to deliberately do it more often to elicit the same pleasing reaction. They come to learn that smiling is associated with happiness so they do it as often as possible. It no doubt makes them happy as well. Laughter comes later on. Most developmental psychologists believe that the majority of babies discover the ability to laugh somewhere between the ages of two and six months.

Laughter is a universal form of communication done all over the world and therefore some people argue that there is an instinctive side to it. Other people believe that no one is born with a sense of humor and must instead learn how to laugh. Babies often mimic the actions and words they observe from their parents and other family members. It is recommended that parents encourage laughter in their babies from the earliest age and help to cultivate a developing sense of humor. This is something that once learned can continue to grow as a child gets older. Studies into laughter and its effect on families have found that families with the closest ties are the ones where a sense of humor is very evident. Often a healthy sense of humor can relieve tension in stressful situations and can sometimes prevent an argument from taking place in the first place. Laughter as therapy is becoming more and more a part of mainstream medicine and the positive effects it has shown in hospitals, such as where clowns are used as distraction therapy for children who are suffering from cancer, is very well documented.

But is laughter as we are often told, the best medicine? Can laughter aid in keeping us healthy? Read on to find out.

How often do you laugh?

It is estimated that on average a child laughs about 400 times each and every day while an adult partakes in laughter only 15 times throughout an average day. That is quite a discrepancy. Laughter is refreshing and rejuvenating to the mind, body and soul of every person. Laughter makes people feel happier; it helps to connect people and make them feel less alone; laughter is a stress reliever and laughter helps to improve relationships, both personal as well as professional ones. Studies have shown that workplaces that encourage laughter among employees boast higher levels of productivity, success and greater levels of morale. Laughter is very social and it serves to bring people together in positive ways. It is a unifying trait that crosses all cultural boundaries.

More and more physicians and healthcare professionals are catching onto the benefits of laughter therapy to help their patients. Laughter is believed to come as second nature to people everywhere and for that reason it should take as little effort to laugh as it does to smile. If laughter does not come as naturally to you as you would like it to, incorporate more humor and fun activities into your day-to-day life. For example, spend time with family members or friends who can have you in stitches in no time, go see a funny movie or rent one to watch at home, read a humorous book, watch a comedy on television, go see a live comedian in action or just listen to a funny joke someone at work is telling. You can easily bring more laughter into your world with very little effort.

Laughter is not just ha, ha, ha however. Laughter is therapeutic and very healthy for the body as well. Did you know that laughter is excellent for the respiratory system; is excellent for the immune system; does good work for the circulatory system; helps to reduce stress levels in the body; relaxes the muscles in the body; and plays a role in both controlling as well as reducing pain in the body? Well it does do all of those things. Let us look closer at the therapeutic benefits of engaging in ha, ha, ha.

Laughter and its Many Therapeutic Benefits for the Human Body

Respiratory problems are very common among people however studies have shown that such things as asthma, bronchitis, frequent head colds, pneumonia, sinus congestion and emphysema are kept at bay by way of laughter due to the fact that laughing on a regular basis serves to increase the concentration of immunoglobulin A that is found in saliva. Laughter in and of itself provides an excellent aerobic workout for the diaphragm, which is good news for the lungs and the entire respiratory system. For those who do not know what the diaphragm is or where it is to be found, it is a muscle located in the lower abdomen. Laughter empties the lungs of more air than they take in on a consistent basis and this is a very cleansing action that can be compared to the therapeutic benefits derived from deep breathing.

Laughter allows the immune system to work to its optimum best and make it a well-oiled machine with a top efficiency rating. Laughter increases the quantity and activity level of natural killer cells that attack viral infected cells and an assortment of other types of both tumors as well as cells that are cancerous. Laughter also encourages an increase in the number of activated T cells (or what is known as T lymphocytes), which often lie undetected and silent until something awakens them to action.

Laughter helps the heart and circulatory system work as well as it possibly can. Laughter increases the flow of blood to and from the heart and it improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues throughout the human body. Humor is well supported by research as a method of effectively lowering blood pressure. Studies sometimes yield the strangest results as it has been shown that laughing regularly seems to benefit females even more so than it benefits males. Why this is the case nobody really knows.

Laughter provides exercise for the circulatory system and it is sometimes thought of as being an internal jog for the heart as it provides a workout much the same way that jogging does. Just as cardiovascular exercise helps to strength the heart which is the largest muscle of the body, so does laughter. For that reason people who have difficulty doing physical activities such as walking, jogging or running would benefit tremendously from laughing as often as possible.

Stress hormone levels in the body can be reduced when a person engages in laughter. There are a tremendous amount of neuroendocrine hormones in the human body that are easily activated when the body is suffering under a great burden of stress. In response to the stress load, these neuroendocrine hormones cause the blood vessels to constrict and by so doing, they then suppress the activity of the immune system. Of all of the stress hormones in the body, four of them, which include cortisol, epinephrine, the growth hormone and dopamine, are decreased when an individual laughs.

The muscles do a tremendous amount of work on a regular basis and need the opportunity to relax once in a while. This is where laughter comes in. When an individual takes the time to laugh heartily, the muscles in the human body are then given the chance to take a much-needed break from work. Of course some muscles are necessary for the laughter to take place in the first place but all the rest of the muscles can thoroughly relax and unwind at this time. Once the laughter dies down then the muscles that helped make it happen in the first place can relax as well. So in the end all muscles get a much-deserved rest from hard labor and the relaxation they so richly require.

No one enjoys pain and therefore finding ways to both control and reduce pain in the human body are high on the priority list for the medical community and all healthcare providers. Laughter can help in this area. Laughter plays a significant role in controlling pain and it also raises the level of certain chemicals in the brain such as for example endorphins, which are akin to natural painkillers in the body. Another important role of laughter is it serves to lower the levels of dopamine that can be found in the brain. Dopamine plays a role in the fight or flight response the body resorts to when it feels cornered or is in danger and it is linked to an increase in blood pressure in reaction to the perceived threat of fear.

But laughter does not just help control pain, it also plays a role in reducing it as well. Laughter helps to reduce pain because it provides a distraction from it. That is why in hospitals laughter is often referred to as distraction therapy for patients, especially children with terminal illnesses. Many physicians believe that laughter can help move the process of healing along both more smoothly as well as more effectively and it can sometimes even allow for a speedier recovery.

So what are you waiting for? Laugh and feel good doing it! Adults need to laugh and so do children. Cultivate a healthy sense of humor in your children and start when they are still babies in their cribs. Laugh quietly, laugh loudly, and encourage your little ones to laugh freely and openly and as often as they please. And whatever you do, laugh right along with them. It is healthy and enjoyable after all and keep in mind that laughter does not cost a dime!

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