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Laughter Study
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New research suggests that, much like exercise, scheduling humor into your day could be beneficial to your health.

Loma Linda University researchers have demonstrated that the simple anticipation of a scheduled positive experience, like humorous events, can initiate positive changes in neuroendocrine and stress hormone response. In other words, looking forward to a happy experience may be good for you.

Lee S. Berk, DrPH, presented this research in San Francisco in April at the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology to the American Physiological Society section.

Since then, interest from the media has not stopped, says Berk, who is an associate professor in LLU's School of Public Health and associate research professor in the School of Medicine.

The findings about anticipation are based on a study in which healthy males were randomly divided into two groups. Throughout the study both groups were treated the same, except the experimental group watched a self-selected humorous video, and the control group did not. The participants were notified three days in advance which group they would belong to.

Researchers drew blood from both groups at several intervals-before, during, and after the hour in which participants either watched the video or waited in a neutral "non-stimulating room," as determined from prior research.

The blood tests revealed that the expectation of the video positively affected the viewers even before it started. The higher levels of these positive hormones in the video-watching group were sustained not only through duration of the video but also after.

Produces Profound Changes

"The physiological effects of a single one-hour session viewing a humorous video appear to last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in different individuals," Berk says, "while other studies have shown that a daily 30-minute exposure can produce profound and longer-lasting changes in these measures."

Berk conducted the research along with James Westengard, MT (ASCP), a research specialist, department of pathology and human anatomy, LLU School of Medicine, and Stanley A. Tan, M.D., Ph.D., of Oakcrest Health Research Institute. The researchers are working to not only replicate this study, but are also adding the element of gene expression.

This latest research continues to build on previous studies with humor and laughter that these researchers have conducted since 1985, according to Berk. The body of work shows that laughter arising from happiness or joy optimizes the activities of specific components of the immune system and appears to offset physiological and mood states associated with the symptoms of chronic stress.

As research on the anticipation of upcoming happy events continues at LLU, the public will likely continue to take notice of those lifestyle behaviors that will influence happiness and health.

"I'm intrigued to see the interest that people around the world have in bona fide, viable medical science supporting the belief that happiness and laughter arc good for your mental and physical health," Berk says. "I guess this should not be too surprising; after all, we are told in Proverbs 17:22 that a merry heart, if you please, is actually good medicine."

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Reprinted with permission from Pacific Union Recorder, November 2006. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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