Health benefits of hiccuping chortles

I may have asked you this before. Hope you don’t see it as too personal.

When’s the last time you did it? Was it earlier this morning? Last night before bed, perhaps? Not for a week or more, you say ... oh, dear.

Laughing — make that a hearty, from-your-gut chortle that leaves you breathless and exhausted — can be life-saving. Think of it as aerobic exercise in its grandest form. Some experts say it has more curative possibilities than many medications.

One expert says it like this: “The sound of a roaring laugh is more contagious than any cough, sniffle or sneeze and triggers healthy physical changes in the body.”

It strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy level, distracts you from any pain you may be feeling and provides a release from stress. “Nothing works faster and more dependably to bring your mind and body into balance.”

One of my favorite happy and laughing moments occurred years ago when I was shopping with my daughter-in-law, and we were in one of those stores that has multiple rooms filled with decorative, new-old stuff or, as my husband phrases it, “nothing we can’t live without.“ In the illustration that follows you will see that, in this case, he is wrong.

I dispensed my 8- and 11-year-old granddaughters to find the most unique and interesting object in the store — not for purchase, but as a sisterly competition. In retrospect, I should have offered better criteria. The winner was the 8-year-old’s discovery of a larger-than-life mannequin with a sultry, "come hither" look, no clothes and peeling paint chips in all the wrong places.

There were lots of the wooden “Keep Calm and Carry On” signs that became popular a few years ago and seem to have stayed that way (No wonder!). Next to one such sign was another that said, “Now, Panic and Freak Out.”

My daughter-in-law, a middle-school teacher who had a class of more than 30 rowdy seventh-graders, saw those words and started laughing. Truth be told, she did more than a simple giggle, she chortled and hiccuped and doubled over repeatedly in spasms of uncontrolled laughter. When another customer looked over at her curiously, she said, “I’m a seventh-grade teacher!” and pointed to the sign. And when she did that, she started laughing all over again. Everyone around her lost their composure, just a little, in response to her merriment. It was a good thing. The best part was at the end when she said, “Gosh, I feel so much better.”

What makes you feel better? It can be fairly personal. The antics of toddlers, happily frolicking pets or a quick-witted late-night comedian are pretty good bets. Think of it like this: “At the height of laughter, the universe is filled with a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.” That quote comes from the sometimes-controversial author Jean Houston, who is now an 80-something elder.

Have you noticed that funny and inspirational comedians seem to have long lives? Bob Hope died at age 100. Charlie Chaplin was 88. Jerry Lewis was 91.

Maybe you could think of laughter is an anti-aging approach. Even if that is not true, it’s worth exploring — one smiling, hiccuping chortle at a time.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at

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