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Why Laughter Is Good Medicine

By Karisa Ding | August 10, 2015 | Rally Health

Here’s a fun fact — every time you get together with friends and share jokes or funny stories, you’re doing something good for your body. Laughing is not only great for dealing with a bad mood, but also for your overall health and well-being. It can build friendships, may help us live longer, and according to some experts, might be as important to your health as exercise.

Here are some ways laughter does a body good:

  • It improves your mood. We all know that laughing can put us in a better mood. Studies show that this can help lessen depression and anxiety, especially in people who are dealing with a serious illness.
  • It’s a great stress-buster. When you laugh, your heart rate goes up and you take in more oxygen, invigorating your major organs and muscles. After a laughing spell, your heart rate slows down, your muscles loosen up and relax, and your stress hormones drop.
  • It’s good for your heart. Using ultrasound imaging, researchers have observed that arteries actually become wider and more flexible for almost 24 hours after a laughing spell, allowing for better circulation. One theory is that the endorphins triggered by laughing interact with the lining of your blood vessels to relax the arteries.
  • It may boost immunity. Studies show that laughter boosts certain antibodies and immune cells, which may help fight off infections.
  • It dulls pain. Laughter might help you cope better with everyday aches and pains. Laughing triggers the release of "feel good" brain chemicals called endorphins, which act like opiates in our brains and help us feel less pain. In one study, people watched either a serious show or a comedy show. The comedy group could tolerate more pain after the show than the drama group.
  • It may be a key to long life. Studies of people who are around 100 years old in the United States, Sweden, and Japan have found that they share some things in common. Centenarians are more likely to be easygoing, optimistic, and outgoing (extroverted) and less likely to be neurotic and negative than the population generally. As part of an ongoing Longevity Genes Project, researchers found that laughter and social networks are important elements for a longer life.

According to some researchers, laughter is a human social signal that helps us break the ice and bond with others. Friends and strong social networks bring a whole bunch of other health benefits. So make that brunch or poker night happen, it’s good for you.

One thing to keep in mind: The type of laughter makes a difference. You want natural and unforced laughter, not a polite, awkward "heh heh" in response to your father-in-law's puns. Experts believe that spontaneous laughter after hearing something funny is the type of laughter linked to endorphin release and reduced stress.

Ways to get your laugh on

If you need more humor in your life, try these tips:

  • Make time to hang out with people whose company you enjoy. Chances are, one of the reasons you like them is because they make you laugh, and vice versa. The jokes don't even have to be that funny ­— laughter is contagious when you’re with others. 
  • Spend time with children. If you have young kids or grandkids, you're in luck — ­ the average kindergartner laughs about 300 times a day, whereas the typical grownup laughs only about 17 times. Tune in to what kids say and do, and they'll probably have you in stitches.
  • Unwind with a funny show. Put your DVR to work and add a selection of sitcoms and comedy specials that appeal to your sense of humor. Books, magazines, and comedy websites are also excellent options.
  • Try a laughter group. Yes, it’s a thing. In many places people get together just so they can share a hearty laugh. Some community and health centers offer laughter yoga, which may combine breathing, stretching, and meditation with laughing. Studies show that laughter yoga can improve mood, heart function, and anxiety.
  • Whatever you do, find ways to laugh every day! And remember, laughing is contagious, so let yourself go and let those belly laughs fly. You’ll be getting a healthy dose of laughter therapy, plus you’ll be spreading good cheer – and good health – to those around you. And that’s no laughing matter.

 

Selected references

Mayo Clinic Staff. Stress Relief From Laughter? It’s No Joke. Mayo Clinic website.

Bennett M and Lengacher C. Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. March 2008. [Link]

Karisa Ding
Rally Health