The notion that laughter is the best medicine has probably existed for years, but the first real proof surfaced in the 1970s when Norman Cousins, a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He believed that if stress could worsen his health, which was known at the time, than laughter could improve it. With the approval of his doctor, he tested the theory on himself, by prescribing funny videos, and his disease went into remission. He wrote a paper about his experience, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, as well as a best selling book, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, and opened our eyes to the connection between laughter and wellness.
Since that time dozens of formal studies have been published, and the findings are amazing:
Laughter boosts hormones, including beta-endorphins, which elevate mood and human growth hormone, which helps boost immunity. In one study, just anticipating watching a funny video sent the hormones surging by 27% and 87% respectively.
A good belly laugh can also lower harmful stress hormones, including cortisol, which triggers an increase in belly fat, and adrenaline, which can weaken the immune system when it remains elevated.
Laughter has also been shown to lower “bad” (lousy LDL) cholesterol, raise “good” (happy HDL), decrease blood pressure, and cause your body to respond in a way that’s similar to moderately intense exercise. Isn’t the human body amazing?!
One of the reasons I went back to school to get a second master’s degree in public health was because I knew that nutrition alone can’t completely determine wellness. I often ask my clients about their sleep patterns, social support, and even, “When’s the last time you laughed really hard?” or “How many times a day do you laugh?”
Children laugh 300-400 times a day, even when they’re not provoked to laugh. Adults laugh about 15 times a day, but “filter” their responses, which kids don’t do.
I suggest taking Mr. Cousins’ lead, and prescribing yourself some comedy. In other words, a 5-10 minute YouTube detour isn’t a waste of time – it’s kind of like fitting in a workout! Below is my favorite funny video - no matter how many times I watch, it always makes me laugh out loud :)
If you’ve ever enjoyed barley soup, you know how hearty and filing this delicious grain is, and it has quite a history. Egyptians buried mummies with necklaces made of this ancient grain. Today, barley remains the world's fourth most important cereal crop after wheat, rice, and corn.
Of all the whole grains, barley packs the most fiber, and it’s rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Natural substances in barley have also been shown to help reduce cholesterol (even more than oats), control blood sugar, and boost immunity by feeding the friendly or “good” bacteria in your digestive tract.
I included a Garlicky Barley Vegetable Soup recipe in S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches, but barley can also be used as a side dish. Swap it out for brown or wild rice or enjoy it as an oatmeal alternative at breakfast.
Barley can take up to an hour to cook, but if you whip up a larger batch it will last in the fridge for up to a week. Another easy way to take advantage of this healthful whole grain is to look for rolled barley flakes (like Bob’s Red Mill), which cook in the microwave in just 5 minutes. You can also whip barley flakes into a smoothie, fold them into nut butter, or toast them as a topping for fresh or baked fruit, or yogurt.
I'm a former runner turned walker, and in my opinion, walking is the perfect exercise. Here are 10 reasons why I hope you'll fall in love with walking too:
10. Walking has been shown to boost your immune system, open up your circulation, and improve digestion, all of which play a role in preventing cancer.
9. Regular walks boost bone density, and protect against the loss of bone tissue as you age.
8. Walking lowers blood pressure, "bad" or lousy LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
7. Walking is versatile - you can walk alone, with your family, your dog, or with a friend.
6. All it takes is a good pair of shoes – no gym membership or special equipment needed.
5. You already know how. It's second nature - after all, you've been doing it since you were about one year old!
4. Walking improves mental and physical stamina. Instead of draining you, a brisk walk can actually help your energy level soar and boost your productivity.
3. A single walk can transform your body image. Research shows that all forms of exercise improve personal body satisfaction, even without weight loss. That means in one 30 minute walk, you can return home feeling entirely different in your own skin.
2. Research shows that when the same distance is covered, walking is just as effective as running for both health and weight control. In a Duke University study, runners and walkers lost nearly identical amounts of body weight, body fat, and belly fat.
1. It just feels good before, during, and after! Walking helps reduce stress, lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and boost overall mood. Now that's powerful.
I love walking so much I devoted an entire chapter to it in S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Check it out to learn more about four other unique benefits, which are the reasons I'd walk even if there were zero health benefits, and walking didn't burn a single calorie.
Here are 10 reasons why you MUST eat dark chocolate every single day:
1. Compared to milk chocolate eaters, those who downed dark chocolate ate 15% fewer calories without even trying and reported fewer cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods.
2. Dark chocolate contains unique natural substances, including some that truly create a sense of euphoria, similar to the feeling of being in love!
3. Dark chocolate contains magnesium, a mineral that can help alleviate PMS symptoms, including cramps, water retention, fatigue, depression, and irritability.
4. Chocolate contains the same type of antioxidants found in red wine and tea, which have been shown to boost brain activity.
5. Dark chocolate has been shown to help correct imbalances in the body related to stress, and can significantly reduce levels of stress hormones (a surge in stress hormones is linked to more belly fat).
6. Dark chocolate has a caffeine kick, but not too much. One ounce of 70% dark contains about 40 mg of caffeine, compared to 200 mg in 8 ounces of brewed coffee and 120 mg in strong black tea.
7. The antioxidants in cocoa trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. That means better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to every cell.
8. Chocolate’s protective natural substances help prevent cholesterol from sticking to your artery walls, reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke.
9. Heart-attack survivors who ate chocolate just twice a week over a two-year period cut their risk of dying from heart disease threefold.
10. The type of saturated fat in dark chocolate isn’t the same as the artery-clogging saturated fat in a hamburger or whole milk. It’s a unique variety called stearic acid, much of which gets converted in the body to oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acid or “MUFA.”
And that’s not all - for more info on the benefits of dark chocolate and how it fits into a healthy eating plan, check out S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever books are sold. I devoted an entire chapter to dark chocolate, which includes five recipes for my signature dark chocolate truffles (they take just five minutes), with seasonings ranging from balsamic vinegar to tangerine zest and loose green tea leaves. You'll also find deliciously healthy chocolate recipes like my Chocolate Pear Ginger Smoothie and Dark Chocolate Oatmeal.