Legendary comedian Bob Hope lived until 100, while comedienne Phyllis Diller enjoyed life until the ripe old age of 95.
Sitcom favorite Dick Van Dyke is still active at 94, as is movie comedy-maker Mel Brooks. And beloved actress Carol Burnett is following close behind, still cracking jokes at 87.
These are just a few of our comedy legends who lived well beyond the average life expectancy. It makes you wonder, what’s their secret?
Good genes, education and financial wealth may help these funny folks tip the longevity scales, but the latest research reveals another important factor that’s attainable by anyone: a sense of humor.
A large study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine reveals that women with a good sense of humor live longer, despite illness such as cardiovascular disease and infection. Their male counterparts also seem to be protected against infection.1
Your Body and Mind Love a Good Joke, Research Proves
Norwegian researchers conducted a 15-year study exploring the connection between sense of humor and mortality among 53,556 women and men in their country.
The team analyzed the cognitive, social and affective factors of humor that were addressed on the participants’ questionnaires.
Next, the researchers assessed death from specific conditions including heart disease, infection, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In a nutshell, the study shows that the greater the role humor plays in the participants’ lives, the better their chances of surviving until at least 70 years.
They found that women with high “humor scores” in the way they view everyday life– called the cognitive component in the study– experienced:
- A 48 percent lower risk of death from all causes;
- A 73 percent lower risk of death from heart disease;
- And a notable 83 percent lower risk of death from infection.
These are substantial reductions in chronic disease and death!
But what might be most interesting is that these results did not completely translate to men.
In this study, men with a high humor score did have a 74 percent reduction in death from infection (compared with women’s 83 percent reduction.) But they did not have a lower risk of premature death from all causes.
What’s going on with these results?
The authors were equally baffled, but they suggested that any gender differences in the results may be because as men age, their humor scores dip slightly. (Don’t tell Mel Brooks that, though!)
Good Humor Positively Affects How You View Life
According to the authors, the cognitive component influences the way people view everyday experiences. It stands to reason that humor can serve as a buffer against the stressful situations of daily life and protects one’s health.
Additional research confirms the study findings that laughter is the best medicine.
- A laugh does your heart good. A 2009 study at the University of Maryland Medical Center revealed that laughter and an “active sense of humor” can protect against a heart attack and prevent heart disease. The cardiologists discovered that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to exhibit good humor in a variety of daily life scenarios when compared to their peers without heart disease.2The researchers believe that laughter decreases blood pressure and improves blood circulation and oxygen intake.
- Humor helps manage pain. Remember the movie Patch Adams, featuring Robin Williams? Based on a true story of a doctor who used humor to help his patients heal, it underscores how humor can be a great pain reliever even in a hospital setting. Studies suggest that laughter triggers the release of endorphins, promoting a sense of well-being, and even a reprieve from pain.3 What’s more, laughter also decreases the stress hormone cortisol so inflammation is minimized throughout the body.
- Laugh more, remember more. That’s right, research shows that the more you laugh, the better your memory. Loma Linda University researchers dug into this premise in a 2014 study.4They examined the stress levels and short-term memory of 20 healthy adults in their 60s and 70s. One group was asked to sit in silence with no communication. The other group got to watch funny videos. According to the researchers, the “humor group had much higher improvement” in the ability to remember things. They experienced 43 percent better memory function following the funny videos compared to only 20 percent in the group that had to sit in silence before their cognitive testing.
I think the ability to laugh at ourselves as we age is so important, not only for our physical health but our mental health, too. Over the years I’ve talked to numerous alternative doctors, including many that treat cancer. They almost always tell me that attitude is vital to any recovery from diseases like cancer.
In fact, I recall one story where a cancer patient claims to have healed his cancer by watching old television comedies all day long for weeks on end! So, it stands to reason that good humor and laughter would also improve our lifespan.
These findings echo other research that we’ve explored on this site. Basically, those people who are positive, laugh easily and don’t take themselves too seriously seem to fare well in the longevity department.
If you aren’t feeling all that funny, try watching your favorite comedy on TV, or call a friend who never fails to make you chuckle. Laughing just feels good and best of all, one laugh seems to lead to another.