Keeping up with the demands of a carrer and family and enduring the gray, cold days of winter can leave you feeling physically and emotionally depleted. If you are weary and in need of a healthful boost, invite more laughter into your life and heal what's ailing you.

For many years researchers have studied and documented the healing benefits of laughter. For Michele Strickland, RN, BSN, CCRN, clinical manager for pediatrics and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford, the restorative power of a good laugh is seen each day. Strickland finds that humor is therapeutic for everyone she deals with in her line of work. "Studies have proven that laughter can heal, and in order for our patients, families and staff to cope with the many challenging and emotional situations we face, it is imperative that laughter occurs frequently around here," she says.

In a 2005 study, researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center discovered physical evidence that laughter is good for everyone. The UMMC study found that the act of laughing dilates the endothelium; the inner lining of the body's blood vessels and increases blood flow throughout the body. Dr. Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventative cardiology at UMMC and associate professor of medicine at the University School of Medicine concluded that daily doses of laughter are even good for your cardiovascular system and offset the impact of mental stress that is harmful to the endothelium.

Humor also seems to complement traditional medical treatments. Dr. Kevin J. Sullivan, M.D., neurologist with Medford neurological & Spine Clinic in Medford believes that his patients do better overall when compassion and humor are part of the prescription for healing. "In my own practice of neurology, dealing with serious and life-threatening or life-limiting illness, I've always tried to inject humor into my patients' visits. As a resident in neurology I read a book by Norman Cousins and I took his approach to heart," he says.

Cousins believed that an individual's psychological approach to illness had a direct effect on their biological health. Cousins became well known for his remarkable recovery from debilitating arthritis and his book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient.

In Cousins' book he talks about how a positive attitude and laughter brought on by viewing Marx Brothers movies, reduced his body's pain levels. He found that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give him at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, he would switch on the motion picture projector again and frequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.

Whether you are in need of physical healing or just an emotional lift, laughter is clinically proven to be powerful medicine. By simply adding a few things to your routine like watching a funny movie once a week or getting together with a silly friend, you are encouraging your body to reap humorous, healthy rewards. So laugh long and hard. It's good for you!