National Belly Laugh Day, January 24, calls attention to the health benefits of a good hearty laugh— certainly cause to keep your funny friends close, and your funnier friends even closer.
At Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH), we learned how many Dr. Catherine Woods it takes to give a thorough report on the health benefits of laughter—two!
Meet Catherine Wood, M.D., Northwest Community Hospital Medical Group Internal Medicine Physician, and Katherine Wood, Ph.D., NCH Staff Neuropsychologist of Wood Neuropsychology Associates in Arlington Heights, who – you guessed it – laughed when they learned they share the same name and were quoted in the same article.
Laughter is the best medicine
NCH Internal Medicine Physician Catherine Wood, M.D., says, “Laughter truly is the best medicine. My patients who have the best outlook often do very well, especially if they have chronic illnesses, difficult diseases or a poor diagnosis. They seem to fare better and heal faster.”
According to Dr. Catherine Wood, we laugh to release our stress and to find enjoyment in life. It’s a natural thing we humans do that produces positive endorphins.
“It’s almost like breathing,” she says. “You need to have the opportunity to release the tensions and natural pressures that we feel in our lives.”
Laughing also can be a bonding activity that brings people together.
“We definitely feel connected when we share positive energy through laughing,” Dr. Catherine Wood says.
Often, the memories of something can make us laugh and it’s also how we deal with uncomfortable situations. Sometimes finding humor in sad things allows us to turn it into a more positive experience.
When asked how much laughter she prescribes her patients, she herself laughs and says, “I think we should find a reason to laugh every day!”
A word on laughter from a neuropsychologist
“Laughing is good for you as it releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine, a neurotransmitter that relaxes us and gives us the sense of a natural high,” says Dr. Katherine Wood, Ph.D. “It also reduces tension, anxiety, depression, and pain.”
A good belly laugh is similar to meditation in that there’s just this moment in time when you’re completely focused on the present, letting go of life’s worries.
“It is unclear as to whether laughter helps us with memory or our thinking process, but we do know that anxiety, depression and pain can all reduce our ability to think clearly,” says Dr. Katherine Wood.
“We laugh because we find something to be funny,” she says. “This is a natural laughter which we have at a very young age. Other kinds of laughter develop later for more social reasons, like when we’re embarrassed, uncomfortable or just trying to provide polite support for someone.”
Dr. Katherine Wood adds, “While we don’t want to be laughing constantly, so that we can focus on certain things, we could probably all benefit from laughing a little more. And it would be especially healthy if we could all laugh a little more easily at ourselves!”