Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Inner Jogging ..

I once lived in a house in Cabbagetown with two male roommates. I was in my graduating year at CCNM (The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine) working part time and grinding away at 12-hour school days. Inevitably, this reduced my schedule to absolute necessities: sleeping, coffee and brushing my teeth. More often than not, on those nights when I arrived home with my head hung low absolutely defeated by my life, I was lured to roommate #1's computer screen with the promise of something I "HAD TO SEE" on YouTube. In seconds, we would be in hysterics with laughter, much to (sleeping) roommate #2's dismay!
Laughing has been referred to as "Inner Jogging" because of the physiological process that accompanies it. Not only do your facial muscles contort but muscles throughout your entire body: your vocal cords, your diaphragm, your jaw and your accessory shoulder muscles, vibrate in preparation. Before your laugh is in full swing, a blast of air enters your trachea flinging any unassuming mucous against the walls of your windpipe. When your laugh finally erupts, it can be travelling as fast as 170 miles an hour, producing a strange, often disjointed, cackling sound. In the throws of a full-bodied laugh, your body bucks like a bull: you torso flexes, your arms flail - often to slap the table or your thighs - your lachrymal glands produce additional tears that let loose through the open ducts. You puff and wheeze like a marathon runner, your legs become wobbly and you eventually end up writhing on the floor or couch trying to both stop the experience but looking for any reason for it to continue: it's physiological pandemonium really!
The process includes an increase in metabolic rate, which leads to burning more calories; an increase in respiration, temperature and circulation, which leads to a toned cardiovascular system and an increase in cellular oxygen profusion (more oxygen circulating in the body) with an increase in carbon dioxide exhalation. The additional oxygen in the lungs discourages bacterial growth and the typical cough that often follows a laugh assists in clearing out any residual bacteria after the influx of oxygen. In addition, there is an increased secretion of adrenaline, which makes us feel good all over for up to two hours after our laughter has subsided! More immune modulators are produced when we laugh in conjunction with decreases in stress hormone production: these two together prevent us from getting sick!
Because laughing causes forced contraction of so many muscles of the thorax and abdomen, post-laugh muscles have achieved a more fatigued and relaxed state than they would have otherwise.
And for those individuals out there with digestive complaints, laughing can also stimulate the production of enzymes that act as natural laxatives (my apologies to those of you who are regular).
Doctors Ornstein and Sobel suggest that "most of us do not take laughing seriously enough" and that as hardworking, responsible adults (I am not sure that they are talking about me specifically), we often wrongly associate laughter with child's play. Perhaps what health care providers of all disciplines need to do is to incorporate a joke as part of their scripts! After all, considering all the health benefits of laughter, I might not be here right now if it hadn't have been for roommate #1 and YouTube!

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