Our unserious side is being taken seriously by doctors.
Laughing helps you fight illness – and gets you fit.
But how it works is still being puzzled out.
A group of adults are lying in a circle on the floor listening to a recording of ”The Laughing Policeman”. At first everyone feels ridiculous and there’s only the odd nervous giggle, but suddenly the laughter becomes real. It quickly spreads around the room until everyone is infected by it.
Doctors are starting to believe that laughter not only improves your state of mind, but actually affects your entire physical well-being. The people lying in a circle are attending a workshop to learn the forgotten art of laughter. This is laughter therapy in action.
Britain’s first laughter therapist, Robert Holden says: ‘Instinctively we know that laughing helps us feel healthy and alive. Each time we laugh we feel better and more content.’
But we could be losing our ability to laugh. A French newspaper found that in 1930 the French laughed on average for nineteen minutes per day. By 1980 this had fallen to six minutes. Eighty per cent of the people questioned said that they would like to laugh more. Other research suggests that children laugh on average about 400 times a day, but by the time they reach adulthood this has been reduced to about fifteen times. Somewhere in the process of growing up we lose an astonishing 385 laughs a day.
William Fry – a psyciatrist from California – studied the effects of laughter on the body. He got patience to watch Laurel and Hardy films, and monitored their blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tone. He found that laughter has a similar effect to physical exercise. It speeds up the heart rate, increases blood pressure and quickens breathing. It also makes our facial and stomach muscles work. Fry thinks laughter is a type of jogging on the spot. Laughter can even provide a kind of pain and relief. Fry has proved that laughter produces endorphins – chemicals in the body that relieve pain.
Researcheres from Texas tested this. They divided forty university students into four groups. The first group listened to a funny cassette for twenty minutes, the second listened to a cassette intended to relax them, the third heard an informative tape, while the fourth group listened to no tape at all.
Researcheres found that if they produced pain in the students, those who had listened to the humorous tape could tolerate the discomfort for much longer.
Patch Adams is both a doctor and a performing clown in Virginia, America. He is convinced that humour should be a part of every medical consultation. ‘There’s evidence to suggest that laughter stimulates the immune system, ’says Adams, ‘yet hospitals and clinics are well-known for their depressing atmospheres.’ Adams practises what he preaches. He wears his waist-length hair in a ponytail and also has a handlebar moustache. He usually puts on a red nose when seeing patients.
Scientists are finally beginning to unlock the secret everyone has dying to know: just how long can we live? They confidently predict that in the 21st century people will be living to the incredible age of 130. And this is just the start.
Experts studying the process of ageing believe it is possible that people will live long enough to have great-great-great-grandchildren. This belief is based on research and on fact that more and more people are living to be 100 as our general health improves. There are around 4000 people over the age of 100 in Britain – ten times more than 30 years ago.
Dr. Vijg, a Dutch biologist, is the head of a project studying the growing number of old people in the population. He and his team are focusing their attention on human genes, which they think may hold the key to what kills us, early or late in life.
A century ago average life expectancy in Europe was 45. Today, providing we look after ourselves, drive our cars carefully, and cut down on things like butter, alcohol and cigarettes, we can add nearly 30 years to that figure. Within the next ten years, we may all have added a couple more years on top of that.
But that is nothing, compared to what will happen once scientists have discovered our genetic secrets.
Some of the problem genes, like those that cause haemorphilia, have already been tracked down. Dr. Vijg says: ’Nobody dies from old age – just diseases that affect people as they get older.’ And he forecasts that within 30 years, science will be preparing people for a long life.’ Already the killer diseases are being eradicated,’ he says. ‘About 50% of cancers are curable, and i really believe that this will increase to 80%.’
Doctors also believe that the death rate from the biggest killers – diseases of the circulatory system will decline as man comes to his senses by giving up smoking and eating more healthily. Dr. Vijg points to experiments with animals in laboratories. ‘Those given less food, but of a higher quality, lived to the human equivalent of 150 years’.
Dr. Vijg believes that as life span increases, so will other expectations. Women will be having babies at an older age. ‘Already, more and more are having their first child when they are over 30,’he says. ‘In other ten years people might think it normal for a woman of 50 to be having her first child.’
What about living forever? Will eternal life ever become reality? ‘So far, that is science fiction,’ says Dr. Vijg. ‘Theoretically it is possible, but it will be another hundred, perhaps two hundred years before we know all secrets of our genes.’