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If your doctor ever tells you to lighten up, don't be offended. Research shows that laughter and a positive attitude can be healing. They not only help bolster your immune system, but they also lead patients to take better care of themselves.
Mirth as medicine was the last thing on Christine Clifford's mind when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. As she and her husband explained to their two young sons that she'd need treatments that would make her ill and cause her hair to fall out, her then-11-year-old said, "Cool. You'll look like Captain Picard on StarTrek."
"That was the first time I'd laughed in eight days," says Christine, 43, of Edina, Minnesota. "The pain lifted for a minute -- and I realized I can still laugh, still learn to enjoy what I have."
She has since written a cartoon book, Not Now . . . I'm Having a No Hair Day! (To order, call Pfeifer-Hamilton, 800/247-6789), a compilation of funny moments during her recuperation. Says Christine, "If you don't find the humor, you'll dry up."
Laughter pumps up the muscles of the abdomen, chest, shoulders, and neck, says William F. Fry, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School. Laughter also stimulates the brain, ventilates lungs, and raises heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and circulation. "It's a total body experience," says Dr. Fry.