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Take Your (Humor) Medicine

CancerWise - June 2007

By Dawn Dorsey

Less television, more Marx brothers. It's one of the prescriptions that one doctor believes might help cancer patients cope.

"Cancer patients are going through such a major journey with so much stress, and often pain, that laughter, at times, has a positive function," says Moshe Frenkel, M.D., an associate professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program.

As people gain age and experience, they often tend to laugh less, he says. "If you look at babies, you'll see they laugh multiple times during the day, but as people grow up, laughter slowly disappears from their repertoire."

Laughter has real benefits

Studies have shown that humor and laughter can:

  • Reduce:
    • Stress
    • Anxiety
    • Muscle tension
  • Increase pain tolerance
  • Enhance the immune system
  • Improve food digestion
  • Relax arteries
  • Increase blood flow
  • Decrease blood pressure

The muscles of the face, shoulders, diaphragm and abdomen get a good workout with a strong laugh, Frenkel says. An hour of laughter consumes as many calories as a brisk walk.

Look for a laugh a day

"Try to laugh at least once a day," he says. "Use humor almost like medication and make it a regular part of your routine."

One way to build laughter into the day is to make an appointment to laugh every day by yourself, with a friend or family member.

Some tips for a good laugh:

  • Read cartoons, joke books or funny novels
  • Make a scrapbook of cartoons and jokes
  • Watch a funny television show or movie
  • Listen to comedy audiotapes in your car
  • Learn to laugh at yourself
  • Remember people laugh more in groups
  • Play with kids
  • Buy yourself a toy
  • Keep a joke-a-day calendar in a visible place
  • Make funny faces at yourself in the mirror

Most important, think about whom you laugh with, what you find funny, and where and when you feel most happy. Then, put yourself in those situations.

Find funny material

For more inspiration, Frenkel suggests these books:

  • "Medicine is the Best Laughter," G. Bosker
  • "A Treasury of Texas Humor," B. Cannon
  • "Laughter, the Best Medicine," Reader’s Digest Magazine
  • "You’re Only Old Once," Dr. Seuss


© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center