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The benefits of laughter

By Brigid Delaney
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Living on Bondi Beach last summer I used to walk past a strange group who gathered by the skateboard ramps each Saturday morning. They were in a semi circle -- bent double trying to quake with a weird, fake sounding laughter.

Further inquiries elicited that they were a laughter club that met each week. What losers I thought... obviously living such joyless lives that they were forced to join some sad cult where if you faked it for long enough you may be able to proximate some of the joy that comes through genuine laughter.

But research into the physiology of laughter shows that joining laughter clubs can improve your overall health and well being. And hey -- if there is an absence of genuinely funny people in your life it may be worth trying to track some down to make you laugh, even if you do look kind of weird while you're doing it.

A study done at the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at stressful situations helps mitigate the damaging physical effects of distressing emotions.

The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.

When we laugh we lower our blood pressure, it increases the blood flow to the heart and pumps more oxygen into the blood. It also strengthens artery walls.

This is good news for those wishing to prevent high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis, heart disease and ulcers. A good laugh or a joke also helps remove stress and tension -- not only removing it from the body but also diffusing awkward social situations.

Telling a joke and laughing together is a way of connecting with others and feeling relaxed -- which also leads to improve mental as well as physical health.

American College of Cardiology has found that the positive effects of laughing last for up to 45 minutes, while in contrast, the effects of stress decrease the blood flow by 35 per cent. Their researchers recommend 15 minutes of laughter a day as well as regular exercise to promote cardiovascular health.

That's fine if you live with funny people or your workmates tell great jokes, or you hang out in comedy clubs. But for those of us living fairly humorless lives we have to search for our laughter elsewhere.

How to get more of the funny stuff

Watch funny movies: When researchers tested the medical benefits of laughter they used comedy films to trigger laughter amongst the subjects. 95 per cent of volunteers in one study had better blood flow after watching a comedy, while 70 per cent of those that were shown the bloody opening sequence to "Saving Private Ryan" had a worse blood flow after seeing the clip.

Laughter Yoga: Originating out of India and gaining popularity in America, laughter yoga is a combine of stretching and group laughter exercises.

According to its founders: "Laughter Yoga combines simple laughter exercises (simulated laughter) and gentle yoga breathing, which turns into real laughter when practiced in a group."

Participants start with stretching exercises, "rhythmic clapping and chanting of Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha in unison." The practice, according to the groups web site: "will help you to stay in high spirits when life throws up challenges. It will enhance your ability to laugh and smile when dealing with negative emotions, situations and negative or difficult people."

Laughter therapists: Popular on the corporate conference circuit ("come on everyone lets all get to know each other by rolling on the floor with tears running down our faces!") laughter therapists hawk themselves from everything to large gathering to one on one laughter therapy.

Information about many practitioners is on the Internet with some working with families facing serious health and personal issues. Some laughter therapists also advertise their trade in the area of relationship counseling.

Friends: A low cost/ no-cost option, this involves getting your favorite, funniest group of people together -- cooking a meal together or going to a park or having a picnic or brunch -- anything where you're interacting with other people.

Tell them something bizarre, weird, funny or stupid that's happened to you this week in a self-deprecating tone, start to laugh and if they're good mates the laughter will follow. If that fails turn up to Bondi Beach on a Saturday morning and have a laugh at the laughter club.


"My dog's got no nose." 'How does it smell?' "Awful!" Hahahahahahaha etc.

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