Humor Heals

By: Erin Tate
By: Erin Tate

There's one James Madison University professor who is a real ham. Dr. Gail Ham, to be exact. She's found that laughter each day keeps the doctor away.

"We hurt ourselves when we take life so seriously because we put ourselves under a tremendous amount of stress that we don't need to," says Ham.

She incorporates humor healing into her therapeutic recreation studies at JMU's School of Kinesiology. Recreational therapy is one of the fastest growing occupations. And Ham says humor is being used increasingly in hospitals, nursing homes and long term care facilities. It's a means of motivating people to get better faster.

"Just think how you feel when you have a big belly laugh," says Ham as she explains how laughter stimulates endorphins which lower blood pressure, increase socialization and help people cope with crisis and stress. It also boosts antibodies which fight upper respiratory disease. And humor increases energy, heart rate, attentiveness and mental health.

"It's a way to deal with life and not be quite so serious," Ham adds.

Jokes and juggling have always been Ham's daily vitamin. Now, she shares that with her students.

Tiffany Terry, a Senior Therapeutic Recreation Major, says she loves Dr. Ham as a professor.

"You have fun while you learn and that's the main thing to therapeutic recreation is to have fun and learn and incorporate that into your every day life," Terry says.

"When you get up in the morning, you make a choice. Either you decide it's going to be a very serious day or you're going to find all the humorous things about the day that you can," says Ham.

Ham says doctors are now prescribing therapeutic humor for their patients. So, if you're feeling down, she says just activate that funny bone.

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