1.2 About Safety

Key takeaway: Overall, laughter is universally well-tolerated, but caution is advised in patients with specific health conditions.

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Let’s start by reviewing an important question: Are there any health risks associated with laughter?

Maybe this is not a course for you, after all.
But then again, maybe it is!

Medical Disclaimer: The decision to participate in the exercises outlined in this course is entirely up to you. However, it is crucial for individuals with any physical or psychological medical conditions to seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional before incorporating Laughter Wellness or any exercise routine into their regimen. If any of the exercises cause pain or worsen a current condition, it is important to discontinue them.

Not What, How

Similar to other forms of exercise, the safety of laughter is determined by how it is practiced. While gentle laughter may be safe for most individuals, excessive or forced laughter can be harmful. It’s important to remember that laughter is about breathing, and breathing is essential to life, so it is not contraindicated.

Overall, laughter is universally well-tolerated, but caution is advised in patients with specific health conditions are way too many to list here, so here is how to make laughter safe and foolproof:

  1. When in doubt, don’t do it. Don’t ask for trouble if you have any concerning medical condition(s). Before starting this or any other exercise regime, always get your doctor’s advice. If you choose to ignore this advice, you are doing so at your own risk;
  2. Take it easy and enjoy everything you do. Respect your limitations. A smile is as good as a laugh if that is all that is available to you today;
  3. No new pain! Avoid extremes. Stop if anything becomes painful or uncomfortable, even to the slightest degree. Always ask a medical professional before engaging in laughter or any other exercise regime when in doubt.
  4. Breathing dehydrates. It may not be much, but considering that many people are chronically dehydrated, sometimes even a little can be too much. If you experience some heaviness in the head or mild to moderate headaches after laughter, that could be a warning sign. Always listen to your body. Be gentle next time. If you laugh more, drink more water.

What Science Says

A literary review of 67 years of research on laughter published in the British Medical Journal in December 2013 reviewed what modern science knows about its beneficial and harmful effects. They found one case of death by laughter. She was 50, schizophrenic, and was referred for polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (she had a history of heart problems) after Ziprasidone therapy (an antipsychotic drug known to increase mortality in people with dementia-related psychosis). After hearing a joke, she had intense, sustained laughter one day, collapsed, and could not be revived. (Read more about pathological laughter.)

More valid concerns were raised in that particular review against hearty and “intense side-splitting laughter” that can adversely impact certain people with pre-existing health conditions. However, the conclusion was unavoidable and predictable: “The benefit-harm balance of laughter is probably favorable.”

The incidence of a heart attack while shoveling snow, for persons with impaired heart function, is alarmingly high,” says Dr. William Fry, professor emeritus at Stanford University, a man who has studied the health aspects of laughter for decades. “But unexpectedly and against logic, the incidence of heart attacks suffered while laughing is surprisingly low.”

Research carried out in December 2018 in a Kidney Dialysis Hospital unit in Melbourne, Australia, showed that a 30-minute Laughter Yoga session every two days for 30 days had no adverse effect on patients with extreme health conditions, quite to the contrary.

In short, common sense applies: Always take a safe approach and avoid extremes. Intense and forced laughter is neither helpful nor necessary. Beyond a certain point, the body stops producing happy hormones and becomes distressed. It is like everything else. You can’t overeat food even if it is healthy.

7 Core Contraindications

For those who want an exhaustive list, here are what I believe are seven clear and immediate contraindications to laughter. If you suffer from any health condition, that is…

  • Complicated
  • Advanced
  • Acute
  • Severe
  • Unstable
  • Uncontrolled
  • Undiagnosed

…then you definitively must get written permission from your doctor before doing anything, including laughing, because technically, you are potentially seriously at risk and could die anytime.

By clicking the “Next Topic” button below and continuing with this training, you are confirming that you have carefully read and fully understood the information provided on this page and that you are able to safely proceed before using any and all exercises and activities that involve laughing.

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Is faking bad for you?

While research shows that acting as if and changing your behavior first can change the way you think and feel, it also suggests that it can backfire and make you feel worse if you’re being phony or inauthentic. The key is to ensure that you’re interested in changing yourself on the inside, not simply trying to change other people’s perceptions of you.

From the Laughter Wellness facilitator’s perspective, this highlights the importance of:

  • Creating the proper context by inspiring people to “choose” and “allow” themselves to experience something that could be good for them and has inherently no risk, rather than suggesting they “fake” or “force” themselves to do something they might not feel like doing, for some alleged benefit that they might not understand, care about or relate to at this point.
  • Creating a safe space by quickly identifying and allowing those who do not want to participate to step out. (You will learn how to do this quickly and seamlessly in lesson two.)
  • Reminding all who chose to participate that this activity is to be enjoyed, not endured, so no new pain! Either adapt whatever is proposed and make it work for you, or don’t do it if you feel any inner resistance.

Inspiring laughter testimonials

Here are inspiring stories of people who have used laughter in their daily lives with great benefits.

Marlene Chertok

Marlene Chertok, a cancer survivor from Kansas, shares how laughter helped her to heal following a cancer diagnosis. (Online reference: http://lou.pm/marlene).

Linda LeVier

70-year-old Linda LeVier from California credits laughter with her survival: in 2007, on April Fool’s Day, she had a heart transplant. She believes laughter, especially the deep kind that starts in the belly, helped her recover without complications and with no signs of organ rejection. See http://lou.pm/heart

Tommy Westerfield

Tommy Westerfield from California shares how laughing helped his body in his darkest hour, getting through a near-death experience. See http://lou.pm/twesterfield

And so many more…
  1. Laughter eased a lifetime of diabetes. See http://lou.pm/tdiabetes
  2. Recovered from a normally fatal auto-immune disease. See http://lou.pm/taid
  3. From MS and a wheelchair to stress-free and walking. Laughter is a big part of therapy. See http://lou.pm/tms
  4. Shrunk a 20-centimeter cancer tumor in six months, laughing. See http://lou.pm/tcancer
  5. Saved from suicide by a Laughter Club. See http://lou.pm/tsuicide
  6. Thirty years of never-ending illnesses are now gone. See http://lou.pm/30years
  7. Advanced osteoarthritis of the knee joints: Laughing has changed my life. See http://lou.pm/tosteo
  8. Clinical depression: Safely reduced medication by 80% in two months. Now cured. See http://lou.pm/tcd
  9. Abdominal surgery: Did not use painkillers. I woke up with a smile on my face! See http://lou.pm/tsurgery
  10. Dr. Topher Stephenson: Laughter helps reduce pain. See http://lou.pm/pmp