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Berger’s Burg: Patients can laugh their way to improved health

’Tis said: “To laugh is to be free from worry. He who doesn’t worry lives longer. To live longer is to last. Hence, he who laughs, lasts.”

The thing that costs the least and does the most is a laugh.

Despite personal problems and difficulties in the world, people should try to laugh more. It is estimated that the typical adult laughs only about a dozen times daily. That is not much.

Children laugh approximately 150 times every day. They find humor in just about everything they encounter, from morning to night. Adults, on the other hand, usually don’t find very much to laugh about. And that could be the reason for their stress and record-number visits to their doctors for answers.

But, unfortunately, adults seem to have forgotten how to laugh. They habitually shame each other out of laughter with such humor-deflating remarks as “act your age; don’t be so silly; and, don’t laugh at work — it is very unprofessional.” But, a laugh a day may help keep the doctor away.

Recent scientific findings confirm the adage that laughter is good medicine. The American Association for Therapeutic Humor, an organization of 1,000 doctors and health-care professionals, tout laughter as a miracle drug. They would like to see it become part of every patient’s medical treatment.

Can you imagine a doctor prescribing a medication that would improve their patients’ moods while improving their immune systems and help make them healthier? This magic potion would have all the physiological, psychological and immunological effects necessary to keep people in good health. Which doctor wouldn’t prescribe it?

I know, however, that before the potion could be put on the market the FDA would be regulating and running trials before approving it. A doctor would not be able to prescribe it for at least 10 years. But humor and laughter, for medicinal purposes, are free and, besides, they have very few side effects.

Researchers now understand that laughter can have a powerful effect on health. They discovered that the simple act of laughing stimulates the immune system. It decreases stress-producing hormones and increases the number and activity of natural killer cells, which attack and kill viruses and tumor cells.

At some hospitals, doctors have already begun prescribing written jokes with patients’ meals and trading humorous stories with them. It makes the patients feel good, and many of them have healed quicker. Interestingly, many patients return to the hospital after they have been released, just to feel happy again.

Many clinics, rehabilitation centers, support groups and doctors’ offices are adapting laughter therapy. They have not abandoned standard medicine, but they are harnessing laughter along with their other healing resources as a complementary measure.

It is wonderful to think that the antics of the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers could be good for our health. Well, didn’t the ancient Greeks build their hospitals next to amphitheaters so the infirm could be entertained?

Nearly 35 years ago, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins suffered from a progressive degenerative disease of his collagen tissue (a gelatin-like protein in the body). One day he decided to change his negative attitude by watching one funny film after another.

In time, he found he could sleep without medication and his ailment was actually improving. He spent the last decade of his life as director of the Humor Task Force at UCLA Medical School, where his staff helped delve into the medical mysteries of humor and its effects on health.

How can you, an adult, relearn how to laugh? There are several ways, namely, surround yourself with things that bring you joy and happiness. Keep photos of memorable vacations, or wacky photos, such as a dog wearing sunglasses at the office. The photos give you a reprieve, for just a moment, from your daily routine, and they eliminate or cut back negative influences. And, oh, yes, keep reading my weekly columns.

I know that news from around the world is important, but not 24-7-52. Look for humor and happiness around you every day. If you are stuck in traffic, pretend you are in a TV sitcom. Use funny mental images and see how they play out on your show. This exercise replaces stress with joy.

And learn to laugh at yourself. The shortest distance between two people is a shared laugh, even if it is at your own expense. Once you learn this, life gets easier. People will be more congenial to you, they will identify with you, and you may not have to buy apples to keep the doctors away.

But not everyone is ready for a heavy dose of humor. When someone is facing a life-threatening diagnosis, you need to deal with his or her fear level to help stimulate hope. The doctor is not going to rush in and say, “You have cancer; here is your laughter prescription.” But, a joke or two can’t hurt.

In the meantime, let me help bring a bright smile and a chuckle to your lips and keep you laughing and healthy:

I take a lot of antibiotics. When I sneeze, I cure everybody; I met a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time and asked, “How do you feel?”

“Terrible,” the friend replied. “I have hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, dizziness, arthritis and bronchitis.”

“I am sorry to hear that. What have you been doing?”

“Same thing I have been doing for the last 20 years. Still selling health foods.”

I tried acupuncture a while back. I was not feeling too well one evening, so I called my acupuncturist. He told me, “Take one safety pin and call me in the morning.”

Studies show that having a pet is good for your health. A dog keeps the doctor away, especially if it is big enough; I have been drinking a lot of carrot juice because it is good for the eyes. But I am wondering whether I am overdoing it. When I try to sleep, I can see through my eyelids.

And, finally, three health providers were asked: “When you die and friends and family are mourning over your caskets, what would you like to hear them say?”

The dentist: “I would like them to say that I was a wonderful husband, a great family man and a fine dentist.”

The psychiatrist: “I would like them to say that I was an excellent psychiatrist who made a huge difference in peoples’ lives.”

The herbal nutritionist: “I would like to hear them say, “Look, he’s moving.”

Remember, you don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing. So, laugh often and the world will laugh with you. Cry and you cry alone.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

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