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The scientifically proven benefits of laughter

Laughter may truly be the best medicine!

You may wonder why this post is under the category Move and Move Often, but laughter actually exercises several muscles of the body, including your face muscles, abdomen, shoulders, and back.

An excerpt from The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails: The Ultimate Natural Medicine Guide to Preventing Disease and Living Longer:

“Laughter is the best medicine” is more than a catchy phrase. Laughter has both psychological and physiological effects on the body that can lead to dynamic psycho-physiological changes. Learning to laugh makes life more enjoyable. Laughing is contagious. It is almost impossible not to laugh and smile when you hear the raucous giggle of an infant. You may have a smile on your face right now with just the thought of it.

Psychologically, laughter helps eliminate anxious, angry, and gloomy emotions. It reduces stress and promotes a sense of relaxation. Laughter is a coping mechanism and strategy with the ability to promote confidence and create a feeling of optimism in difficult situations.

Laughter alleviates pain and discomfort. The subsequent surge of endorphins during a good laughing episode is like receiving a temporary morphine shot, and a study suggested that laughter actually increases your pain tolerance.562 Endorphins not only naturally relieve pain, they promote an overall sense of well-being and euphoria. Remarkably, one study concluded that just the mere anticipation of a good laugh releases not only endorphins, but human growth hormone.563 A good hardy laugh may also relieve tension by encouraging the muscles to relax.

Laughter enhances blood f low and improves the circulation of oxygen to tissues. A study conducted by the University of Maryland illustrated that laughter causes the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, to relax, expanding blood vessels and increasing blood f low.564 This suggests that laughter is actually beneficial to the heart and brain because they require a continual f low of oxygen from the blood.
Laughter may stimulate immune system activity. Some research indicates laughter may raise antibody activity and reduce levels of stress hormones.565,566 Norman Cousins famously battled his destructive disease, ankylosing spondylitis, with laughter and high doses of vitamin C. He contended that a good belly laugh provided him with two hours of pain free sleep. Amazingly he actually recovered from his illness reportedly through mega-doses of vitamin C, laughter, and a positive attitude.

Laughter appears to have social benefits as well. Laughter is so contagious that when you hear laughter your brain is primed and prepared to laugh. Laughter positively affects relationships and can help two people grow closer together. Laughing together can forge a connecting link and bond. Finally, laughter is attractive, with a tendency to draw others in.
Research has also demonstrated the ability of laughing to reduce blood glucose levels following the consumption of a meal.567 This makes laughter a supportive therapy for diabetics. Another reported benefit of laughter for diabetics is a possible reduction in the risk of heart disease—something diabetics have an elevated risk of. One study demonstrated the ability of laughter to reduce blood vessel inflammation and increase HDL cholesterol, thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease among diabetics.568

Dark chocolate boosts athletic performance and endurance

Dark chocolate has quickly earned a reputation as a superfood with vast human health benefits. Scientists continue to reveal the vast benefits of dark chocolate, including supporting cardiovascular health, providing powerful antioxidants to combat free radical damage, and enhancing brain function. On April 19, 2016, scientists at London’s Kingston University announced an impressive reason for athletes to also celebrate and eat dark chocolate — eating it enhances athletic performance and endurance.

Dark chocolate (chocolate with 70% or more cacao content) is highly nutritious, providing such valuable nutrients as fiber, fatty acids, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. In addition, dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants like polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins; and combats free radicals better than other superfoods such as acai berries.(1)

Now, the caveat is dark chocolate is also high in calories — a whopping 600 calories per 100 grams — and contains about six teaspoons of sugar in the same serving, so only small amounts should be consumed on a regular basis. A reasonable daily amount to consume may be 30 to 50 g daily, aiming for 85% cacao content.

Evidence demonstrates that dark chocolate relaxes the arteries to allow blood to flow more freely and mildly lowers blood pressure.(2) In addition, dark chocolate favorably affects cholesterol levels—decreasing LDL cholesterol and oxidized cholesterol while simultaneously increasing HDL cholesterol.(3) These two benefits may contribute to an overall decrease in cardiovascular disease risk. Indeed, research suggests eating dark chocolate most days of the week decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 57%.(4)

Adding to the mounting body of evidence that dark chocolate is a beneficial superfood, scientists at London’s Kingston University suggest that dark chocolate may give athletes and weekend warriors an edge to achieve their fitness goals. The team of researchers led by Rishikesh Kanesh Patel sought to investigate whether epicatechin — a flavanol found in dark chocolate known to increase nitric oxide production in the body — could enhance athletic performance similarly to beetroot juice.

Beet root juice contains nitrates that the body converts to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels and reduces the consumption of oxygen, allowing athletes to work harder and longer. The benefits of increased nitric oxide production particularly improve endurance.

The study authors evaluated the physical fitness of nine amateur cyclists at the beginning of the study. The nine cyclists were divided into two groups. The first group consumed 40 grams of dark chocolate daily for two weeks, whereas the control group consumed 40 grams of white chocolate instead. White chocolate has a much lower cocoa content and therefore fewer epicatechins.

At the end of the two weeks, the cyclists’ physical fitness — heart rate and oxygen consumption — were measured during moderate exercise and time trials. After a seven-day break, the two groups swapped chocolate types and the two-week trial and physical fitness performance measures were repeated.

What the researchers found was that when the groups consumed dark chocolate they had better overall physical fitness. The cyclists’ who consumed dark chocolate used less oxygen and were able to cover more distance during the time trials.

The study requires further larger and controlled studies to confirm the findings but suggests that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate daily could boost athletic performance — particularly among endurance athletes. Mr. Patel is currently conducting further research as part of his doctoral thesis and plans to test dark chocolate against beetroot juice as part of a comparative study.

(1) Crozier SJ, Preston AG, Hurst JW, et al. Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Chem Cent J. 2011 Feb 7;5:5.

(2) Sudarma V, Sukmaniah S, Siregar P. Effect of dark chocolate on nitric oxide serum levels and blood pressure in prehypertension subjects. Acta Med Indones. 2011 Oct;43(4):224-8.

(3) Baba S, Natsume M, Yasuda A, et al. Plasma LDL and HDL Cholesterol and Oxidized LDL Concentrations Are Altered in Normo- and Hypercholesterolemic Humans after Intake of Different Levels of Cocoa Powder. J Nutr. 2007 Jun;137(6):1436-41.

(4) Djousse L, Hopkins PN, North KE, et al. Chocolate Consumption is Inversely Associated with Prevalent Coronary Heart Disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;30(2):182–87.

Movement throughout the day as good as going to the gym?

Gym memberships and activity climb sharply in January as thousands of people renew their commitment to exercise more regularly. Those who have been mainstays of the gym anticipate this and also know that most people will not continue to patronize the gym come February. If your one of those that can’t seem to stay committed to the gym, don’t worry, researchers at Oregon State University assert that even short periods of activity equaling 30 minutes of daily activity provides health benefits similar to longer workouts at the gym.(1)

It is well-known that regular physical activity enhances overall health and decreases the risk of a range of health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Currently, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity weekly to achieve the greatest health benefits.

The OSU researchers evaluated the physical activity levels of more than 6,000 American adults who wore accelerometers to assess the extent of their daily activity. Participants in the cross-sectional study fell into one of two categories: 1) those that went to the gym to exercise and 2) those who increased their physical activity through short periods of movement — as short as one to two minutes each — through routine daily behaviors.

Remarkably, the study found that those who participated in short periods of physical activity achieved positive health outcomes similar to those who participated in a more structured exercise routine. These benefits included lower blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, diminished waist circumference and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. In fact, the structured exercise group who met the physical activity guidelines for Americans had an 87 percent chance of not having metabolic syndrome compared to 89 percent among the short period group.

These findings, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggest that promoting movement as a way of life may significantly improve the health and quality of life among Americans who are living more sedentary lives generally. Indeed, as little as 15 minutes of daily activity has been shown to increase longevity.

Short periods of physical activity equivalent to 150 minutes weekly can easily be incorporated into most people’s daily routine. For example, you can go down or up a floor to use the restroom; walk to errands that are shorter than a mile; do calisthenics during commercials while watching TV or during a break at work; or pace while talking on the phone.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you can give up on the gym. Structured exercise is still beneficial and high-intensity exercise provides added benefits such as increased metabolism and accelerated fat burning (see TransformWise). But the findings do suggest that if you don’t want to make the time for 30 consecutive minutes of exercise you can achieve similar results by moving more throughout the day to equal 30 minutes’ total. The key is some physical activity is better than none —so get moving daily!

(1) Loprinzi PD, Cardinal BJ. Association between biologic outcomes and objectively measured physical activity accumulated in ≥ 10-minute bouts and <10-minute bouts. Am J Health Promot. 2013 Jan-Feb;27(3):143-51.

Gardening and fishing improve heart health in seniors

If you’re like most people, the older you get the more concerned you become about developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). You probably also know that regular physical activity decreases the risk of CVD. Too often we associate regular physical activity to long bouts of exercise in the gym when the reality is cumulative daily activity through everyday tasks can be just as beneficial. Don’t take my word for it, research from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences suggests simple activities — like gardening — can reduce CVD risk.(1)

Age is certainly a factor when it comes to CVD risk according to statistics. Surprisingly, the American Heart Association estimates that males 45 years or older have a lifetime risk of developing CVD near 67 percent. Women fair only slightly better with close to a 50 percent chance of developing CVD. Cardiovascular diseases currently account for about one-third of all deaths in the United States taking a huge toll on families and economies. It is estimated that 935,000 heart attacks and 795,000 strokes occur each year, and CVD costs are estimated to be an astonishing $444 billion annually.

fisherman-591699_1920The Swedish study, published online October 28, 2013, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, monitored the cardiovascular health of nearly 4,000 men and women aged 60 for 12.5 years. Lab tests associated with heart attack and stroke risk — cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and blood clotting factor —were measured as well as physical examinations completed. In addition, participants reported lifestyle behaviors including diet, daily physical activity during leisure time, exercise, smoking and alcohol intake at the beginning of the study.

What the researchers observed was that those who were most physically active reduced their risk of heart attack and stroke by 27 percent and risk of all-cause mortality decreased by 30 percent, when compared with the least active participants. Remarkably, the physical activity didn’t need to be formal exercise in the gym. Rather, being generally active in daily activities, such as gardening, fishing, car maintenance, do it yourself and berry picking, was linked to decreased risk. This is important considering many individuals over age 60 choose not to exercise, but are likely to go fishing or to garden.

The take away of this study is that seniors can reduce CVD risk by participating in regular daily activities requiring movement. On the other hand, remaining sedentary can disrupt tissue, organ and cellular function, which may lead to ill health and increased CVD risk. The study authors recommend more than two hours of light-intensity activity (doesn’t cause you to sweat), or 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (makes you sweat) every week to get the greatest benefits. For tips to make activity a way of life see pages 107-108 of see The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails.

 

(1) Ekblom-Bak E, Ekblom B, Vikstrom M, et al. The importance of non-exercise physical activity for cardiovascular health and longevity. Brit J Sports Med. 2014;48:233-38.