Cardiac rehab benefits from a good hearty laugh

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“Prevent Hardening of the Attitudes with a healthy dose of laughter,” says Lynne Hunter-Johnston, Lethbridge Regional Hospital Director of Healing Arts in the Chinook Health Region of Southern Alberta. “Terminal Seriousness is harmful to your health.”

Lynne teams with the Cardiac Rehabilitation staff and patients to present a fast-paced “laughter fitness” session in which the physiological benefits of laughter are experienced first hand.

Laughter rather than humour is the focus. Humour, an intellectual process dependant on knowing the language and idiosyncrasies of a culture, is often specific to age and gender, and can be demeaning. “How many of you want to hear another ‘Knock-Knock’ joke?” asks Lynne. The whole group groans.

Laughter, a physiological response in the body, crosses all barriers – age, culture, language, gender. You can actually fake laughter to stimulate the positive effects within your body.

Brave volunteers like Catherine Angus take on Lynne’s challenge to laugh for a whole minute without stopping. “I feel better, more relaxed. It was hard to keep going at first, then it became easier.” Participants notice their breathing deepens, muscles in their bellies and jaws are exercised, and that it is hard to keep still while laughing. Some have tears of joy. Others comment on the contagiousness of the laugh. “This is one virus you want to catch,” says Lynne.

Cardiac Rehabilitation is part of the CHR Chronic Disease education services. It helps people recover, rehabilitate, and manage their lifestyles in terms of their medication, nutrition, activity, and ability to cope with change, so they can be the best they can given their limitations and restrictions.

“Humour is essential in lightening the seriousness of the situation,” says Leila Lavorato, Program/Nurse Manager of Cardiac Rehabilitation. “It helps to cope, even for the short time. It is good to laugh at ourselves.”

Program Nurse Chris Lowings adds, “Attitude is huge in recovery. Being able to laugh and release some of that stress is very important to get the benefit in their everyday life and be able to lighten up. Overall it improves outcomes.”

Recent news includes research from Maryland University School of Medicine finding that laughter seems to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels to relax or expand, increasing blood flow.Ê Mental stress causes the opposite, making vessel linings constrict, thus reducing blood flow. Another study, led by Dr. Keiko Hayashi from the University of Tsukuba, found that laughter at dinner cuts blood glucose levels in diabetics. Besides our great comedians who knew the benefits of a good laugh, we now have an esteemed list of laughter researchers including Dr. Lee Berk, Dr. William Fry, and Dr. Robert Provine.

The session climaxes with a mini-Laughter Club in which everyone experiences fun-themed laughs developed by Dr. Madan Kataria who started Laughter Clubs in India in 1995, and the World Laughter Tour headed by Steve Wilson, “Cheerman” of the Board.

A Hawaiian greeting of “Aloha-ha-ha” opens everyone to more and more giggles. Laughing Lion grimaces are shared throughout the circle. Snickers burst into guffaws as someone buckles over catching this wonderful virus.

The Vowel Laugh has all bending within their own comfort zone then reaching up in mixed choruses of “ho-ho, ha-ha, and hee-hee.” A rousing cheer of “This is the best Cardiac Rehabilitation session ever!” ends with exuberant clapping. Handouts include the World Laughter Tour “Good-Hearted Living Day-By-Day”, “Stretch Your Humour Muscles” and fun stickers for all.

Healing Arts is a unique service building credibility within the CHR for the past fifteen years. Initially started to place art in the new LRH acute care facility in 1989, its services have grown to include a large art collection and an Art Cart taking art to patients for their own choices during their stay. Music Cart selections are made with volunteers loaning patients cassette players and tapes. Strolling storytellers and musicians visit the bedside or perform in various open spaces. Artists sit with patients drawing portraits or help make thank you cards. Specially trained Caring Clowns cavort with young and old – staff included. The most common praise from patients is “You made my day!” Lynne, who is part time, also arranges creative specialty projects with various departments including Mental Health, Seniors Health, and Diabetes Lipid Education. All this is sponsored through the CHR totally by donations and the help of many volunteers.