Alzheimer's disease is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States. An estimated 5 million people in the United States are now living with Alzheimer's, and someone is diagnosed with the disease every 72 seconds. Most people with Alzheimer's are age 65 or older, but at least 200,000 people under the age of 65 are also living with an early-onset form of the disease. By the year 2030, the number of individuals with Alzheimer's could approach 8 million; if scientists can't find a way to cure or prevent Alzheimer's, this number could range between 11 million and 16 million by the year 2050. By the year 2030, the number of individuals with Alzheimer's could approach 8 million; if scientists can't find a way to cure or prevent Alzheimer's, this number could range between 11 million and 16 million by the year 2050. Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the ten warning signs are: • • • • • • • • • • Memory loss Difficulty performing familiar tasks Problems with language Disorientation to time and place Poor or decreased judgment Problems with abstract thinking Misplacing things Changes in mood or behavior Changes in personality Loss of initiative
Other Models for understanding Alzheimer’s disease symptoms
Your doctor may also use a diagnostic framework with five, six, or seven levels. Progression through these stages may last from 8 to 10 years. Although it is rare, some live nearly 20 years from the time neuron change first occurs. The seven stage framework includes the following dimensions: • • • Stage 1 – No impairment. Memory and cognitive abilities appear normal. Stage 2 – Minimal Impairment/Normal Forgetfulness. Memory lapses and changes in thinking are rarely detected by friends, family, or medical personnel. Half of those over 65 begin noticing problems in concentration and word recall. Stage 3 – Early Confusional/Mild Cognitive Impairment. Subtle difficulties impact functions. Try to hide problems. Problems with word retrieval, planning, organization, misplacing objects, and forgetting recent learning affect home and work environments. New learning, complex planning and organization may be impacted. Depression and other mood disturbances can occur. Duration: 2-7 years. Stage 4 – Late Confusional/Mild Alzheimer’s. Problems handling finances result from mathematical challenges. Recent events and conversations are increasingly forgotten. Still know selves and family, but have problems carrying out sequential tasks, including cooking, driving, and home management tasks. Ordering food at restaurants, independent shopping, and other sequential tasks are affected. Often withdraw from social situations, become defensive, and deny problems. Need increasing assistance with the “business” of independent living. Accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease possible. Lasts roughly 2 years. Stage 5 – Early Dementia/Moderate Alzheimer’s disease- Decline is more severe, and requires assistance. No longer able to manage independently in community. Unable to recall personal history details and contact information. Frequently disoriented to place and or time. A severe decline in numerical abilities and judgment skills leaves patients vulnerable to scams and at risk from safety issues. Even if able to dress, feed, and perform other basic daily living tasks, require supervision. Loss of current information is inconsistent and personal history is no longer reliably recalled. Duration: average of 1.5 years. Stage 6 – Middle Dementia/Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s disease- Total lack of awareness of present events and can’t accurately remember the past. Progressively lose ability to dress and bathe independently. Bowel and bladder incontinence often occur, repetitive verbal or nonverbal behaviors are present, wandering, suspicion, and other dramatic personality changes are common. Can’t remember close family members but know they are familiar. Agitation and hallucinations are particularly present in the late afternoon or evening. Late in this stage, need care and supervision but can respond to nonverbal stimuli, and communicate pleasure and pain behaviorally. Lasts approximately 2.5 years. Stage 7 – Late or Severe Dementia and Failure to Thrive. Severely limited intellectual ability. Communicate through short words, cries, mumbles or moans. When speech is lost, also lose ability to ambulate without help. Health declines considerably as body systems begin to shut down, swallowing is impaired, and the brain is no longer able to interpret sensory input. Generally bedridden, increased sleeping, seizures possible. No longer responds to environmental cues and requires total support around the clock for all functions of daily living and care. Duration is impacted by quality of care and average length is 1-2.5 years.
Which Alzheimer’s risks can you control or reduce? Although scientists are still working to find causes and cures for Alzheimer’s disease, conditions and behaviors that leave you more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease have been identified. Did you know: • • Smoking after age 65 increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s by 79%? Obesity in midlife makes you 3 ½ times more likely to experience Alzheimer’s?
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Diabetes makes you twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s? Genetics account for only 25% of Alzheimer’s cases? Chronic stress may quadruple your risk?
Although you can not change your inherited genes, ethnicity, gender, or age, you can address the following risk factors: Alzheimer’s and Dementia Risks You Can Control or Inhibit: • Diabetes • Obesity • Hypertension • Chronic Stress • High cholesterol • Poor quality or insufficient sleep • Heart disease • Sedentary lifestyle
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Liver and kidney disease Smoking, alcohol, drug use Head injury Toxic insults to your brain
The Anti Alzheimer’s Prescription, The Healthy Brain Kit, The Alzheimer’s Action Plan, and a variety of scientific resources (see references below) suggest that a multi-step approach to preventing, reducing, or delaying Alzheimer’s holds significant promise. There are no brain boosting miracles, magic potions, or secret formulas, but the anti-Alzheimer’s fundamentals are health practices that build physical and cognitive fitness: Strategies to Prevent and Delay Alzheimer’s Disease • Get plenty of exercise • Sleep regularly and restfully • Eat a brain-healthy diet • Learn to relax • Keep your mind active • Protect your brain
Prevention and delay strategy #1: Get moving! According to a recent Mayo Clinic review, no single lifestyle choice has as much impact on aging and Alzheimer’s disease as exercise. In a 2009 review of literature from the International Journal of Clinical Practice, scientists documented that over time, physical activity effectively reduces the probability of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Additional research shows those with existing cognitive problems and dementia receive a protective benefit from regular exercise. These tips will maximize your exercise plan: • • Exercise at a moderate pace-for at least 30 minutes five times per week. Just five workouts every seven days can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 35%. When serious brain damage has already occurred, brisk walking and other cardiovascular exercise can slow further injury. Build muscle to pump up your brain-moderate levels of weight and resistance training not only increase muscle mass, they maintain cognitive health. Combining aerobics and strength work is better than either activity alone. Add 2-3 strength sessions to your weekly routine, and your risk of Alzheimer’s is cut in half if you are over 65. Stretch for success-agility not only makes you light on your feet, it improves balance and reduces head injuries. Remember the Tin Man… and reach, twist, and flex often to keep your frame limber and your brain supported. Think movement-those who are physically active throughout life have improved cognitive forecasts. Gardening, cleaning house, and taking the stairs build brain-healthy movement throughout the day. Look for opportunities to walk, bend, stretch, and lift your way to vitality.
Prevention and delay strategy #2: Eat a brain-healthy diet In Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation and insulin resistance injure neurons and inhibit communication between brain cells. In Freedom from Disease, Alzheimer’s is described as “diabetes of the brain,” and a growing body of information suggests a strong link between metabolic disorders and the signal processing systems. In addition, the American Academy of Neurology recently warned elevated cholesterol in your 40’s increases your risk of Alzheimer’s. Eating habits that reduce inflammation and promote normal energy production are brain-healthy. These food tips will keep you protected: • • • • • Follow a Mediterranean diet. Control inflammation by eating foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, cold water fish, nuts, whole grains, and abundant fresh produce. Avoid transfats, full-fat dairy products, and red meat, but treat yourself to a glass of red wine and a dark chocolate square. Maintain consistent levels of insulin and blood sugar. Eat several small meals throughout the day. Avoid packaged, refined, and processed foods, especially those high in sugars and white flour, which rapidly spike glucose levels and inflame your brain. Eat across the rainbow. Emphasize fruits and vegetables across the color spectrum to maximize protective anti-oxidants and vitamins. Daily servings of berries and green leafy vegetables should be part of a plant-centered, brain protective regimen. Drink tea daily. Green, white, and oolong teas are particularly brain-healthy. Drinking 2-4 cups daily has proven benefits. Although caffeine can inhibit stress reduction and become addictive, moderate coffee drinkers also enjoy reduced cognitive risks. Consider supplementing your diet. Vitamins, herbs, and amino acids may provide additional brain protection. Folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and fish oils are believed to preserve and improve memory. Studies of vitamin E, gingko biloba, and tumeric have yielded more disappointing results. Talk to your doctor about medication interactions, and review current literature to make a personal decision about the costs and benefits of dietary supplements.
Healthy eating tip 1: Set yourself up for success To set yourself up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps rather than one big drastic change. If you approach the changes gradually and with commitment, you will have a healthy diet sooner than you think. • Simplify. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories or measuring portion sizes, think of your diet in terms of color, variety and freshness—then it should be easier to make healthy choices. Focus on finding foods you love and easy recipes that incorporate a few fresh ingredients. Gradually, your diet will become healthier and more delicious. Start slow and make changes to your eating habits over time. Trying to make your diet healthy overnight isn’t realistic or smart. Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan. Make small steps, like adding a salad (full of different color vegetables) to your diet once a day or switching from butter to olive oil when cooking. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet. Every change you make to improve your diet matters. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet. The long term goal is to feel good, have more energy and reduce the risk of cancer and disease. Don’t let your missteps derail you—every healthy food choice you make counts.
Healthy eating tip 2: Moderation is key People often think of healthy eating as an all or nothing proposition, but a key foundation for any healthy diet is moderation. Despite what certain fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body. • Try not to think of certain foods as “off limits.” When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. If you are drawn towards sweet, salty or unhealthy foods, start by reducing portion sizes and not eating them as often. Later you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences. Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently, particularly in restaurants. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entrée, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, use smaller plates, think about serving sizes in realistic terms and start small. Visual cues can help with portion sizes—your serving of meat, fish or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards. A teaspoon of oil or salad dressing is about the size of a matchbook and your slice of bread should be the size of a CD case.
Healthy eating tip 3: It's not just what you eat, it's how you eat Healthy eating is about more than the food on your plate—it is also about how you think about food. Healthy eating habits can be learned and it is important to slow down and think about food as nourishment rather than just something to gulp down in between meetings or on the way to pick up the kids. • • • • Eat with others whenever possible. Eating with other people has numerous social and emotional benefits—particularly for children—and allows you to model healthy eating habits. Eating in front of the TV or computer often leads to mindless overeating. Take time to chew your food and enjoy mealtimes. Chew your food slowly, savoring every bite. We tend to rush though our meals, forgetting to actually taste the flavors and feel the textures of what is in our mouths. Reconnect with the joy of eating. Listen to your body. Ask yourself if you are really hungry, or have a glass of water to see if you are thirsty instead of hungry. During a meal, stop eating before you feel full. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly. Eat breakfast, and eat smaller meals throughout the day. A healthy breakfast can jumpstart your metabolism, and eating small, healthy meals throughout the day (rather than the standard three large meals) keeps your energy up and your metabolism going.
Healthy eating tip 4: Fill up on colorful fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet—they are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Fruits and vegetables should be part of every meal and your first choice for a snack—aim for a minimum of five portions each day. The antioxidants and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases.
Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day—the brighter the better. The brighter, deeper colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—and different colors provide different benefits. Some great choices are: • Greens: Greens are packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, C, E and K, and they help strengthen the blood and respiratory systems. Be adventurous with your greens and branch out beyond bright and dark green lettuce—kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Chinese cabbage are just a few of the options. Sweet vegetables: Naturally sweet vegetables add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets. Some examples of sweet vegetables are corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes or yams, winter squash, and onions. Fruit: A wide variety of fruit is also vital to a healthy diet. Fruit provides fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.
Don’t forget to shop fresh and local whenever possible The local farmer’s market, fruit stand or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group are great ways to get access to fresh, local produce. To find local growers, farmer's markets, and CSAs in your area, visit Local Harvest. Avoid: Fruit juices, which can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per cup; avoid or dilute with water. Canned fruit is often in sugary syrup, and dried fruit, while an excellent source of fiber, can be high in calories. Avoid fried veggies and those with dressings or sauces—too much unhealthy fat and calories. Water—a vital part of a healthy diet Water makes up about 75% of our bodies and helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins. Yet many people go through life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy and headaches. Caffeinated beverages, in particular, actually cause the body to lose water. Fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, contain plenty of water and can help with hydration, especially when you are looking for an alternative to your eighth glass of water for the day.
Healthy eating tip 5: Eat more healthy carbs and whole grains
Choose healthy carbohydrates and fiber sources, especially whole grains, for long lasting energy. In addition to being delicious and satisfying, whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains tend to have a healthier heart.
A quick definition of healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs Healthy carbs (sometimes known as good carbs) include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable. Unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs) are foods such as white flour, refined sugar and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber and nutrients. Unhealthy carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy. • • Include a variety of whole grains in your healthy diet, including whole wheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and barley. Experiment with different grains to find your favorites. Make sure you're really getting whole grains. Be aware that the words stone-ground, multigrain, 100% wheat, or bran, don’t necessarily mean that a product is whole grain. Look for the new Whole Grain Stamp. If there is no stamp look for the words “whole grain” or “100% whole wheat,” and check the ingredients. Try mixing grains as a first step to switching to whole grains. If whole grains, like brown rice and whole wheat pasta, don’t sound good at first, start by mixing what you normally use with the whole grains. You can gradually increase the whole grain to 100%.
Avoid: Refined grains such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain. Fiber: An essential component of a healthy diet Dietary fiber, found in plant foods (fruit, vegetables and whole grains) is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Fiber helps support a healthy diet by helping you feel full faster and for a longer amount of time, and keeping your blood sugar stable. A healthy diet contains approximately 20-30 grams of fiber a day, but most of us only get about half that amount. The two types of fiber are soluble and insoluble. • • Soluble fiber can dissolve in water and can also help to lower blood fats and maintain blood sugar. Primary sources are beans, fruit and oat products. Insoluble fiber cannot dissolve in water, so it passes directly through the digestive system. It’s found in whole grain products and vegetables.
Healthy eating tip 6: Enjoy healthy fats & avoid unhealthy fats Good sources of healthy fat are needed to nourish your brain, heart and cells, as well as your hair, skin, and nails. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA are particularly important and can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve your mood and help prevent dementia. Add to your healthy diet: • • Monounsaturated fats, from plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil, as well as avocados, nuts (like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans) and seeds (such as pumpkin, sesame). Polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold water fish oil supplements. Other sources of polyunsaturated fats are unheated sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, and walnuts.
Reduce or eliminate from your diet: • • Saturated fats, found primarily in animal sources including red meat and whole milk dairy products. Trans fats, found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Healthy eating tip 7: Put protein in perspective
Protein gives us the energy to get up and go—and keep going. Protein in food is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy, and essential for maintaining cells, tissues and organs. A lack of protein in our diet can slow growth, reduce muscle mass, lower immunity, and weaken the heart and respiratory system. Protein is particularly important for children, whose bodies are growing and changing daily. Here are some guidelines for including protein in your healthy diet: Try different types of protein. Whether or not you are a vegetarian, trying different protein sources—such as beans, nuts, seeds, peas, tofu and soy products—will open up new options for healthy mealtimes. • • • • Beans: Black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, and lentils are good options. Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, pistachios and pecans are great choices. Soy products: Try tofu, soy milk, tempeh and veggie burgers for a change. Avoid salted or sugary nuts and refried beans.
Healthy eating tip 8: Add calcium & vitamin D for strong bones
Calcium and vitamin D are essential for strong, healthy bones— vitamin D is essential for optimum calcium absorption in the small intestine. Recommended calcium levels are 1000 mg per day, 1200 mg if you are over 50 years old. Take a vitamin D and calcium supplement if you don’t get enough of these nutrients from your diet. Great sources of calcium include: • • • Dairy products, which come already fortified with vitamin D. Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale and collard greens Dried beans and legumes
See Osteoporosis, Diet and Calcium for more about the role of calcium in your diet. Healthy eating tip 9: Limit sugar, salt, and refined grains If you succeed in planning your diet around fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats, you may find yourself naturally cutting back on foods that can get in the way of your healthy diet —sugar, salt and refined starches. Sugar and refined starches It is okay to enjoy sweets in moderation, but try to cut down on sugar. Sugar causes energy ups and downs and adds to health problems like arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, headaches, and depression. • • • Give recipes a makeover. Often recipes taste just as good with less sugar. Avoid sugary drinks. One 12-oz soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it! Try sparkling water with lemon or a splash of fruit juice. Eliminate processed foods. Processed foods and foods made with white flour and white sugar cause your blood sugar to go up and down leaving you tired and sapped of energy.
Salt Salt itself is not bad, but most of us consume too much salt in our diets. • • Limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day, the equivalent to one teaspoon of salt. Most of us consume far more than one teaspoon of salt per day. Avoid processed, packaged, restaurant and fast food. Processed foods like canned soups or frozen meals contain hidden sodium that quickly surpasses the recommended teaspoon a day.
Healthy eating tip 10: Plan quick and easy meals ahead Healthy eating starts with great planning. You will have won half the healthy diet battle if you have a wellstocked kitchen, a stash of quick and easy recipes, and plenty of healthy snacks. Plan your meals by the week or even the month One of the best ways to have a healthy diet is to prepare your own food and eat in regularly. Pick a few healthy recipes that you and your family like and build a meal schedule around them. If you have three or four meals planned per week and eat leftovers on the other nights, you will be much farther ahead than if you are eating out or having frozen dinners most nights. Prevention and delay strategy #3: Build brain reserves According to the 2008 Wall Street Journal review “Neurobics and Other Brain Boosters,” an active, stimulated brain reduces your odds of developing Alzheimer’s. Those who remain engaged in activities involving multiple tasks, requiring communication, interaction, and organization, who continue learning, and constantly challenge their brains earn the greatest protection. Cross-training with these brainpower activities will keep your mind sharp: • • • • • Set aside time each day to learn something new - read a good book, study a foreign language, play a musical instrument. The greater the novelty and challenge, the larger the deposit in your brain reserves. Practice memorization - start with something short and progress to the 50 U.S. capitals. Create rhymes and patterns to strengthen your memory connections. Solve riddles and work puzzles - brain teasers and strategy games provide great mental exercise and build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. Look for activities that use both sides of your brain…logic and language versus artistic and creative challenges. Practice the 5 W’s - observe and report like a crime detective. Keep a Who, What, Where, When, and Why list of your daily experiences. Capturing visual details keeps your neurons firing. Follow the road less traveled - take a new route, eat with your other hand, rearrange your computer desktop. Vary your habits regularly to create new brain pathways.
Prevention and delay strategy # 4: Sleep to restore memory Your brain needs regular, restful sleep to process, store, and recall information. Nightly deprivation not only leaves you cranky and tired, but according to memory experts Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Gary Small, poor sleep can significantly damage your brain and central nervous system. These tips will help you catch your Z’s and quiet the demons that keep you awake: • • • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at the same time reinforces your natural circadian rhythms. Your brain’s clock responds to regularity, and long term disruption has been associated with heart disease, cancer risks, and cognitive problems. Set the mood. Reserve your bed for sleep (and sex), take a hot bath, and dim the lights. Brisk evening exercise, comfortable temperatures, and white noise machines can also signal your brain that it’s time for deep restorative sleep. Stop snoring, dear! Alcohol, smoking, sedating drugs, excess weight, high blood pressure, and clogged nasal passages can rock the timbers. Snoring may signal sleep apnea, a respiratory condition that threatens your heart and mind. A new study from the University of California at San Diego estimates seventy to eighty percent of Alzheimer’s patients experience sleep apnea. Cognition is frequently improved following Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
treatment, which mechanically regulates the rise and fall of blood pressure and oxygen to the brain. Quiet your inner chatter. When mental dialogues keep you awake, get up. Try reading or relaxing in another room for twenty minutes then hop back in. If repeating this cycle doesn’t work, check your stress levels. Your memory may depend on it.
Prevention and delay strategy #6: Protect your brain By the time Alzheimer’s disease appears, irreversible damage has already occurred. Preventing and delaying Alzheimer’s includes three protective tips: • Avoid toxins - Among the most preventable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are smoking and heavy drinking. Not only does smoking increase the odds for those over 65 by nearly 79%, researchers at Miami’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center warn that a combination of these two behaviors reduces the age of Alzheimer’s onset by six to seven years. If you stop smoking at age, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately. Brain changes from alcohol abuse can only be reversed early. Wear a helmet - and limit distractions. A National Institute of Health study suggests head trauma at any point in life significantly increases your risk of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Andrew Weil cautions that repeated hits in sports activities including football, soccer, and boxing, or single traumatic injuries from bicycle, skating, or motorcycle accidents make Alzheimer’s disease more likely in later life. Preserve your brain by wearing properly fitting sports helmets, buckling your seatbelt, and tripproofing your environment. Avoid activities that compete for your attention—like driving with cell phones and running with your MP3 player. A moment’s distraction can lead to a braininjuring thud! Create a brain-safe environment - The evidence on modern technology is mixed. Scientists continue to examine links between neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and exposure to environmental contaminants. UCLA’s Memory Center Director Gary Small warns that lead, pesticides, mold, and other substances in your environment may damage your brain. Studies on the impact of electromagnetic energy from cell phones are still debated. Although definitive links to Alzheimer’s can be elusive, making choices that limit chronic exposure to environmental harm makes good sense.
Laughter is the Best Medicine The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter
Humor is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. In addition to the domino effect of joy and amusement, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use.
Laughter is strong medicine for mind and body “Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.” ~ Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health. Laughter is good for your health Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. •
The Benefits of Laughter Physical Health Benefits: • • • • • Boosts immunity Lowers stress hormones Decreases pain Relaxes your muscles Prevents heart disease
Mental Health Benefits: • • • • • Adds joy and zest to life Eases anxiety and fear Relieves stress Improves mood Enhances resilience
Social Benefits: • • • • • Strengthens relationships Attracts others to us Enhances teamwork Helps defuse conflict Promotes group bonding
Laughter and humor help you stay emotionally healthy Laughter makes you feel good. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh–or even simply a smile–can go a long way toward making you feel better. And laughter really is contagious—just hearing laughter primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in on the fun. The link between laughter and mental health • Laughter dissolves distressing emotions. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
Laughter helps you relax and recharge. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more. Humor shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
The social benefits of humor and laughter Humor and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment. Laughing with others is more powerful than laughing alone Shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times. Using humor and laughter in relationships allows you to: • • • • Be more spontaneous. Humor gets you out of your head and away from your troubles. Let go of defensiveness. Laughter helps you forget judgments, criticisms, and doubts. Release inhibitions. Your fear of holding back and holding on are set aside. Express your true feelings. Deeply felt emotions are allowed to rise to the surface.
Laughter and Relationships Mutual laughter and play are an essential component of strong, healthy relationships. By making a conscious effort to incorporate more humor and play into your daily interactions, you can improve the quality of your love relationships— as well as your connections with co-workers, family members, and friends. Bringing more humor and laughter into your life Anyone can join the laughter movement. All it takes is a willingness to risk some loss of control. The timid may start with a few shy giggles. The courageous may jump in with deep belly laughter. A sense of humor is not required. There’s more than enough stress to go around and absurdity abounds in our daily lives. All we have to do is believe, let go, clap our hands and laughter will live again. So will we. Laughter is feeling deeply which allows us to live fully. Source: We Need to Laugh More, Enda Junkins, LMFT. Laughter is your birthright, a natural part of life that is innate and inborn. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born. Even if you did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, you can learn to laugh at any stage of life.
Begin by setting aside special times to seek out humor and laughter, as you might with working out, and build from there. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate humor and laughter into the fabric of your life, finding it naturally in everything you do. Here are some ways to start: • • • Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling. Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When in a state of sadness, we have further to travel to get to humor and laughter. When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?” Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious. Bring humor into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”
Creating opportunities to laugh • • • • • • • • • • • • Watch a funny movie or TV show. Go to a comedy club. Read the funny pages. Seek out funny people. Share a good joke or a funny story. Check out your bookstore’s humor section. Host game night with friends. Play with a pet. Go to a “laughter yoga” class. Goof around with children. Do something silly. Make time for fun activities (e.g. bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke).
Developing your sense of humor: Take yourself less seriously One essential characteristic that helps us laugh is not taking ourselves too seriously. We’ve all known the classic tight-jawed sourpuss who takes everything with deathly seriousness and never laughs at anything. No fun there! Some events are clearly sad and not occasions for laughter. But most events in life don’t carry an overwhelming sense of either sadness or delight. They fall into the gray zone of ordinary life–giving you the choice to laugh or not. Ways to help yourself see the lighter side of life:
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Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take ourselves less seriously is talk about times when we took ourselves too seriously. Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them. Look for the humor in a bad situation, the irony and absurdity of life. This will help improve your mood and the mood of those around you. Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun. Keep things in perspective. Many things in life are beyond our control—particularly the behavior of other people. While you might think taking the weight of the world on your shoulders is admirable, in the long run it’s unrealistic, unproductive, unhealthy, and even egotistical. Deal with your stress. Stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter. Pay attention to children and emulate them. They are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing.
Checklist for lightening up When you find yourself taken over by what seems to be a horrible problem, ask these questions: • • • • • • Is it really worth getting upset over? Is it worth upsetting others? Is it that important? Is it that bad? Is the situation irreparable? Is it really your problem?
Using humor and play to overcome challenges and enhance your life The ability to laugh, play, and have fun with others not only makes life more enjoyable–it also helps you solve problems, connect with others, and be more creative. People who incorporate humor and play into their daily lives find that it renews them and all of their relationships. Life brings challenges that can either get the best of you or become playthings for your imagination. When you “become the problem” and take yourself too seriously, it can be hard to think outside the box and find new solutions. But when you play with the problem, you can often transform it into an opportunity for creative learning. Playing with problems seems to come naturally to children. When they are confused or afraid, they make their problems into a game, giving them a sense of control and an opportunity to experiment with new solutions. Interacting with others in playful ways helps you retain this creative ability. Here are two examples of people who took everyday problems and turned them around through laughter and play: Roy, a semi-retired businessman, was excited to finally have time to devote to golf, his favorite sport. But the more he played, the less he enjoyed himself. Although his game had improved dramatically, he got angry with himself over every mistake. Roy wisely realized that his golfing buddies affected his attitude, so he stopped playing with people who took the game too seriously. When he played with friends who focused
more on having fun than on their scores, he was less critical of himself. Now golfing was as enjoyable as Roy hoped it would be. He scored better without working harder. And the brighter outlook he was getting from his companions and the game spread to other parts of his life, including his work. Jane worked at home in her apartment complex designing greeting cards, a job she used to love but now felt routine. Two little girls who loved to draw and paint lived next door. Eventually, Jane invited the girls in to play with all the art supplies she had. At first, she just watched, but in time she joined in. Laughing, coloring, and playing pretend with the little girls transformed Jane’s life. Not only did playing with them end her loneliness and mild boredom, it sparked her imagination and helped her artwork flourish. Best of all, it rekindled the playfulness and spark in Jane’s relationship with her husband. As laughter, humor, and play become an integrated part of your life, your creativity will flourish and new discoveries for playing with friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and loved ones will occur to you daily. Humor takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed, positive, creative, joyful, and balanced perspective.