Friday, April 18, 2014

'H' is for "Humor"

I was examining a new patient, and I was being careful, and very, very gentle. The reason for being so gentle? The patient in question was a diminutive, 92 year old lady. She had been very bright and talkative. As I listened to her lungs, she suddenly went limp, and her head slid to one side. I froze for just a second and then checked her pulse. It was strong, and she seemed to be breathing fine. I put my hand on her shoulder, and shook her gently. Still no response. Now i was getting worried.
"Mrs. Smith," I said loudly in her ear, and shook her a bit more forcefully. Still no response. It was time to call 9-1-1. I stepped quickly to the door and was about to call the nurse to make the call.
"Got you, Doc!" Mrs. Smiths's voice piped behind me.
I turned around and saw this 92-year old, with a big smile, winking at me. 
"Are you okay?" I asked, still a little confused.
"You think I got to this age with just my amazing looks?" she said, laughing out loud.
"You really did get me," I said, laughing a little. "You have a great sense of humor."
"Guilty as charged, Doc. I don't take life too seriously," she said.

We've heard this over and over again for a long time. So is it true? Does humor really improve your health? When we laugh, we generally are happy. And we are happy more often when we are with people we connect to, be it family or friends.

Research has shown that humor and laughter are associated with higher pain tolerance and lower blood sugar levels in Diabetes. And laughter appears to burn calories too. A research group at Vanderbilt university conducted a small study in which they tried to ascertain the loss of calories while laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burnt 50 calories. While the results are intriguing, we shouldn't be too hasty in ditching the treadmill. One piece of chocolate has about 50 calories. At the rate of 50 calories per hour, losing one pound would require 12 hours of concentrated laughter! Dr. Miller, from the department of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland, had research projects which concluded that people who laugh more are less likely to develop heart disease. He says the recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right, develop a good sense of humor and laugh a few times a day.

One of the biggest problems with laughter and humor research is that it's very difficult to determine cause and effect. For instance, a study might show that people who laugh more are less likely to be sick. But that might be because people who are healthy have more to laugh about. Or researchers might find that among a group of people with the same disease, those who have a good sense of humor, have more energy. But that could be because people who have that humorous trait, probably have a personality that allows them to cope better.

Common sense and a sense of humor are essentially similar facets, moving at different speeds. If you just stretch and fast forward common sense, you are in the realms of the sense of humor!

As Mark Twain once said, "There's one common denominator in people that I love-- they all make me laugh."

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~ E E Cummings