Laughter is the Best Medicine!

The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter. - Mark Twain


When I was a little boy my father took me to listen to the great Paul Anderson speak. I sat at his feet, totally captivated. I didn't understand a word he said and I loved every minute of it. A few months later my dad took me to a seminar featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I didn't understand a thing he said either but again, I loved it. What I did understand was that these men were not only great lifters, but very special human beings. Even a child recognizes greatness when he sees it. I also grasped that both men had an extraordinary and charming sense of humor. They weren't just informative, they were entertaining and fun loving. They'd poke fun at the audience and themselves, and at times would join the audience in spontaneous laughter. It was obvious that they enjoyed what they were doing.

As I grew up, I got to know these two men on a more personal basis and trained with them on a number of occasions.  Even though they were competing in different sports their attitude towards training was very similar. In brief, they used a humorous approach to weight training. Although they were serious about what they wanted to accomplish in their sport and extremely focused when they lifted, they always had time for a gag or a joke. Having fun was a product of their workout success, the ability to laugh and train in an environment filled with joy. "The gym houses losers and winners. The winners are nearly always the athletes who have a positive attitude and a cheerful disposition. "Happiness produces a winning spirit, and a winning spirit produces success!", explained Arnold. "If you don't have a positive, upbeat attitude in the gym, you aren't going to get maximum benefit from your training. Humor can help you cope psychologically with the rigors of training."


Many members of the weightlifting establishment are coming around to that same type of thinking. "Joking around and laugh­ing a lot can significantly enhance your training," says Magnus Ver Magnusson, Four Time World's Strongest Man. "It just makes sense that when you're happy you're going to perform better. Humor can be the difference between a good workout and a great workout." Look at the athletes in the gym who are successful: they're the ones who enjoy what they do. A positive attitude brings positive results.

Like Magnus, IFBB pro Aaron Baker is sold on the benefits of humor. He-says: "Humor is a mood elevator that can create a feeling of confidence and power, and it should definitely be an important part of your life. If you aren't happy in life, you'll never reach your zenith." The same may be true in the gym.

Three-time world power-lifting champion Curtis Leslie has actually made humor a training tool. "The pressure of international competition is so great, I realized early in my career that if I didn't enjoy what I was doing, I'd burn out quickly." he says. "Consequently, I decided to make a conscious effort to incorporate humor and laughter into my training sessions." Leslie started out by wearing humor­ous shirts to the gym. When that initia­ted laughs, he began wearing funny un­fits to train in. He also started putting playful notes and cartoons in his train­ing partner's gym bag, on the gym mir­rors and on the locker-room doors. "Laughter is a tool for achievement", Continues Leslie. "Reality isn't always motivating; we need a few good laughs now and then to keep attacking our goals, particularly in the world of weightlifting, where a high level of competition and stress is part of the game.


Besides helping you cope with the psychological rigors of training and competition, a good laugh may actually enhance your health. In fact, laughter may he the best medicine, and it's certainly the cheapest. Although the actual connection between laughter and healing is still rather sketchy, a growing amount of evidence indicates that beneficial effects come from laughing. Doctors studying links between laughter and health are find­ing new confirmation that laughter helps ward off sickness.

Recent studies at the National Instititutes of Health indicate that laughter helps the brain produce higher levels of chemicals called neuro-peptides, which increase the number of macrophages -- the disease-fighting cells of the body. Laughter may cause the brain to block the manufacture of cortisol, a common immune-system suppressant. In fact, laughter might speed up the production of endorphins, chemical substances that enhance immunity. Of course, the stronger your immune system the less your chance of contracting an illness, and the faster you'll recover from illness.

Aside from the theoretical effects on the immune system, laughter pro­duces some effects that can be mea­sured unequivocally. William Fry, a researcher at Stanford University in California who has studied the benefi­cial effects of laughter for more than 40 years, explains: "Laughing 100-200 times a day is equal to about 10 min­utes of rowing. It speeds up heart rate, elevates blood pressure, accelerates breathing and increases oxygen con­sumption. A hearty laugh gives the muscles of the face, shoulders, diaphragm and abdomen a vigorous workout. With convulsive or sidesplit­ting laughter, even the legs and arms get involved." That's what Fry calls "internal jogging.''

After a good laugh, muscle relax­ation and a drop in the aforemen­tioned levels occurs. Fry believes that like exercise, laughter may reduce the risk of heart disease, depression and other stress-related conditions.

Many corporate businesses now conduct workshops to help employees find their funny bone in an effort to reduce stress and enhance health. Alan Linn, a corporate journalist, says. "Humor consultants are proving that humor in the workplace, once thought to be the antithesis of the American work ethic, can help companies run smoother, cut medical costs, increase-sales and production, keep employees and even polish the company's public image." When we're able to laugh at what troubles us we empower our­selves to cope with the stresses of life. As Linn explains, "Humor is power -- it's good medicine."

Whatever the physiological reasons for laughter's benefits, it can free you of anxiety, fear, embarrassment, hostil­ity and anger, states Vera Robinson, head of nursing at California State University, Fullerton. "She notes: "Laughter gives a person a different perspective on life. We've found that when you reduce an individual's anxi­ety and fear, he or she recuperates better and faster. It's simply the mind-body connection.''

Of course, we don't need Sherlock Holmes to tell us how such benefits apply to lifting. We know that the real growth of muscle occurs not during the workout but rather during the recuperation period between work­outs. Consequently, anything that pro­motes healing is worthy of the athlete's consideration. Also, if stress and negative emotions can decrease your performance, why can't laughter and feelings of hope and well-being enhance performance, or even pro­mote physical development?


The question arises, how can we get more laughter into our lives? Here are a few suggestions:

Surround yourself with happy, positive people. A well-known fact in social psychology is that we tend to adopt the same personality characteris­tics as the people with whom we inter­act. If you surround yourself with nega­tive, depressed people, you'll tend to become negative and depressed. Conversely, if you're always around positive, happy individuals, you'll likely be positive and happy. In fact, even if you're somewhat negative and have a hard time laughing, you can learn to laugh and enjoy life by associating with happy people. In an attempt to bring "laugh-minded" people together, several humor clubs have been organized throughout the United States. Club members attend comedy presenta­tions, read humorous books and tell funny jokes and stories. Some clubs even bring in laugh experts to teach them how to laugh.

Develop a humor file. Finding our lighter side isn't always easy, especially in today's fast-paced, get-ahead-at-all-costs world. Many times we're so immersed in daily problems that we forget all about comic relief. This is particularly true if you're humor impaired or suffer from terminal seriousness. Developing a humor file can help. Start a collection of humorous stories, jokes, videotapes and anything else that tickles your funny bone, then when things get a little difficult escape to your humor collection to cheer yourself up.

Smile as much as possible. Make a conscious effort to smile, even if you don't feel like it. Researchers have found that when people smile or laugh even when they aren't happy, their brain secretes an assortment of chemi­cals that not only boosts their immune system but also gives them a physiolog­ical lift -- a mind elevator, if you will. Annette Goodheart, a Santa Barbara, California, psychotherapist, explains: laughter triggers the diaphragm. It's like putting a key in a car ignition --the engine catches and turns over. Much the same thing happens with fake laugh. Your diaphragm interprets this as a real laugh and your body responds appropriately."

Incorporate humor and laughter into every day. Arnold once told Joe Weider that although Joe was the greatest entrepreneur he'd ever met, he never wanted to be like him because Joe was too serious. Arnold said, "I can't do anything unless I'm having fun doing it." Years later, Joe noted, "I taught Arnold a little bit about business; he taught me a lot about laughing." An active sense of humor is a natural aptitude we all can possess, yet this skill has to be developed and nur­tured. Do whatever you can to ensure that you get a daily dose of humor in your life. If possible, set aside 1-2 hours for having fun with happy people, listening to spirited music or watching exhilarating movies.

Laugh when things get tough. Actor and comedian Bill Cosby has said: "Once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it. Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers." At the Georgia Ironman Championships, 198-pound Willie Coleman attempted a 500-pound bench. Halfway through the lift, his right arm snapped in half and the weight crashed down on his face. Everyone in the auditorium was in shock. When I got to him he was a bloody mess. "Are you okay?" I asked. "I don't know," he responded in obvi­ous pain. "Was the lift good?" Everyone in the place cracked up. By seeing the humor in his own unfortu­nate plight, Coleman made a terrible situation bearable.

It goes without saying that humor is critical to our well-being. Remember, "He who laughs ... lasts."

- Dr. Judd


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