Laughter Is the Best Medicine

While the author of the Book of Proverbs remains uncertain (most likely, King Solomon wrote it), its intent is not. The book was written to share insight, and much conventional wisdom originates in its pages. Proverbs 17:22, "a merrie heart doth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones," has transformed into the popular saying, "Laughter is the best medicine." It turns out that King Solomon, et al., were right: Laughing has medicinal applications.

Robin Dunbar, from Oxford University, led a team of researchers who evaluated laughter and its impact on pain perception in the lab and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In the lab, participants watched clips of South Park or The Simpsons before or after researchers exposed the subjects to painful experiences—either by tightening a blood pressure cuff on them or slipping a wine chiller on their arms. At the festival, before and after performances, participants stood against a wall with their legs bent at a 90-degree angle as if they were sitting in a chair until it became so painful they fell on the ground. (My pilates instructor makes us do this, but she calls it a workout.)

Previous research suggested that laughter dulls pain, and Dunbar found evidence that supports this claim.

Groups that either watched or participated in comedy felt less pain than their peers, who watched a documentary. And he found that people who laughed more had an even higher pain threshold than those who only let a few giggles escape. Chuckling with others also increased laughter's positive impact; people are 30 times more likely to laugh in a group than alone. Dunbar believes that laughing triggers endorphins—neurotransmitters produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, which spark a feeling of comfort similar to what occurs when someone takes an opiate. Love, excitement, spicy foods, orgasms, exercise, and pain all cause the brain to produce endorphins, which also provide an analgesic effect.

Dunbar further examined the two types of laughter, Duchenne and non-Duchenne. Duchenne laughter is the type of natural chuckle that people experience when they see or hear something funny, which is often contagious. This giggling involves the contractions of the orbicularis oculi muscle (the muscle that enables the eyelids to close) and Dunbar suspects that this packs more pain relief than non-Duchenne laughter, which is emotionless and context-driven and does not involve any muscle activity. Duchenne laughter might be so effective because it involves muscle activity much like exercise or a massage, both of which release endorphins.

Dunbar writes:

"The capacity to sustain laughter for periods of several minutes at a time may exaggerate the opioid effects, thus ramping up the sense of heightened affect that humans experience in these contexts. A key aspect of this may be that social (or Duchenne) laughter is highly socially synchronized. In a study of physical exercise (rowing), synchronized activity ramped up endorphin production."

So next time you're in pain, try watching something funny and having a laugh. It might just help.
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Shown above: The Yue Minjun "Amazing Laughter" sculpture in Vancouver, BC, photographed by Flickr user Matthew Grapengeiser

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Netherlands Officials Want to Pay Residents to Bike to Work
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Thinking about relocating to the Netherlands? You might also want to bring a bike. Government officials are looking to compensate residents for helping solve their traffic congestion problem and they want businesses to pay residents to bike to work, as The Independent reports.

Owing to automobile logjams on roadways that keep drivers stuck in their cars and cost the economy billions of euros annually, Dutch deputy infrastructure minister Stientje van Veldhoven recently told media that she's endorsing a program that would pay employees 19 cents for every kilometer (0.6 miles) they bike to work.

That doesn't sound like very much, but perhaps citizens who need to trek several miles each way would appreciate the cumulative boost in their weekly paychecks. For employers, the benefit would be a healthier workforce that might take fewer sick days and reduce parking needs.

Veldhoven says she also plans on designing a program that would assist employers in supplying workers with bicycles. The goal is to have 200,000 people opting for manual transportation over cars. If the program proceeds, it might find a receptive population. The Netherlands is already home to 22.5 million bikes, more than the 17.1 million people living there. In Amsterdam, a quarter of residents bike to work.

There's no timeline for implementing the pay-to-bike plan, but early trial studies indicate that the expense might not have to be a long-term prospect. Study subjects continued to bike to work even after the financial rewards stopped.

[h/t The Independent]

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New Health-Monitoring Litter Box Could Save You a Trip to the Vet
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Unsure if your cat is sick or just acting aloof per usual? A “smart toilet” for your fur baby could help you decide whether a trip to the vet is really necessary.

Enter the Pet Care Monitor: More than a litter box, the receptacle is designed to analyze cat urine for health issues, The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo reports. Created by the Japan-based Sharp Corporation—better known for consumer electronics such as TVs, mobile phones, and the world's first LCD calculator—the product will be available for purchase on the company’s website starting July 30 (although shipping limitations may apply).

Sensors embedded in the monitor can measure your cat’s weight and urine volume, as well as the frequency and duration of toilet trips. That information is then analyzed by an AI program that compares it to data gleaned from a joint study between Sharp Corp and Tottori University in Japan. If there are any red flags, a report will be sent directly to your smartphone via an application called Cocoro Pet. The monitor could be especially useful for keeping an eye on cats with a history of kidney and urinary tract problems.

If you have several cats, the company offers sensors to identify each pet, allowing separate data sets to be collected and analyzed. (Each smart litter box can record the data of up to three cats.)

The Pet Care Monitor costs about $225, and there’s an additional monthly fee of roughly $3 for the service. Sharp Corporation says it will continue developing health products for pets, and it has already created a leg sensor that can tell if a dog is nervous by measuring its heart and respiratory rates.

[h/t The Asahi Shimbun]

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