They say all good things in life are illegal, immoral, or fattening. Well, we may have an exception to this rule – laughter! Ever wondered why all your problems seem lighter after a good laugh? Or why you felt a spike in energy after watching a favorite comedy show on TV? A happy, upbeat mindset affects our moods, decisions, our relationships, and even our physical health in a significant way. So impressive are the therapeutic effects of laughter that there is a group of scientists involved in gelotology, the study of the effects of laughter on the mind and body!1
Here are some of the benefits you should cash in on today.
Natural Pain Killer: See The Pain Wane
Ever had a nagging headache just vanish after a good chuckle with a friend? Laughter, especially social laughter, kickstarts the release of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones that act as neurotransmitters and have analgesic properties. Endorphins also help you relax and improve your overall sense of well-being. As one study that tested pressure-induced discomfort found, when people listened to “funny” tapes, their discomfort and pain thresholds improved considerably. 2
There is also the case of Norman Cousins, an American journalist, for whom laughter turned out to be the best medicine after all. Cousins, who was diagnosed with a degenerative condition called ankylosing spondylitis, overcame prolonged episodes of debilitating pain by consistently watching humorous films. He claimed that 10 minutes of intense laughter gave him the kind of pain relief he did not get even from morphine. Not surprising, really, if you consider the opioid properties of endorphins. Cousins went on to live much longer than the doctors had predicted. 3
Stress Buster: Laugh The Stress Away
Anyone who’s just let go and had a good laugh knows that laughter has a cathartic effect. Well, the “high” that you get when you laugh may not be all in the mind, though. When under stress, the adrenal glands release stress hormones such as cortisol as part of the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism. Elevated levels of cortisol over prolonged periods can weaken the immune system and increase the risk for depression and heart disease.4 But a regular dose of laughter can keep the cortisol levels under check – reducing levels by as much as 69 percent, as one study found.5 In fact, the study also suggested that even the anticipation of laughter can bring down cortisol levels significantly. And this, in turn, has a beneficial impact on memory and cognitive functions – the brain can then think faster, make more connections, and comprehend more effectively.
Antidepressant: Beat The Blues
Research reveals that laughter instantly elevates the mood and alleviates symptoms of depression. According to one such study, people with a well-developed sense of humor are less likely to develop depression as a result of stressful situations. Laughter, a phenomenon that involves the entire cerebral cortex, acts like a “brain massage,” instantly boosting mood and helping you beat the blues.6
Another study affirms that laughter can improve cognitive function in the elderly and alleviate signs of depression, anxiety, and stress. It may even help improve sleep quality and beat insomnia.7
Blood Pressure Antidote: Put A Lid On Hypertension
Laughter seems to give even your blood pressure a high – but the good news is, this spike is momentary. As one study on “mirthful laughter” showed, while your blood pressure tends to increase while you are laughing, regular laughing impacts the blood vessels positively and actually lowers your blood pressure.8
So how does this happen? Cortisol and other stress hormones act on the walls of your blood vessels and make them contract.9 Laughter not only reduces cortisol levels but also gives the cardiac muscles a workout. Though this initially raises the blood pressure, it also dilates the blood vessels, resulting in a sustained drop in blood pressure.10 For best results, though, you need to go beyond that self-conscious chuckle and indulge in a good belly laugh that lasts a minute or more.
Cardiovascular Health Booster: Take Laughter To Heart
A good laugh is called “hearty” for a reason! Endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels that regulates blood flow and blood thickening, expands as a result of laughter. Moreover, the deep breathing that accompanies laughter improves the circulation of oxygenated blood in the body. Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effect of humor on two groups of subjects. While one group watched stressful segments from a war movie, the other group was shown funny parts from a comedy. There was a remarkable improvement in blood circulation in the latter group due to the dilation resulting from laughter.11 Laughter also decreases artery inflammation and increases the good cholesterol HDL.12 This salubrious effect of laughter on the endothelium could even reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.13
Immunity Builder: Give Your Body An Immunity Boost
Beta-endorphins and other hormones released while you laugh may stimulate the production of T-cells, a kind of lymphocytes that increases immunity. An experiment conducted in Japan had some interesting results to share. Patients with atopic keratoconjunctivitis were monitored after watching Charlie Chaplin’s silent comedy Modern Times. It was found that laughter increased the production of certain immunoglobulins, antibodies that your body makes and uses to ward off disease-causing viruses and bacteria. The antibody found to have the greatest sense of humor – the one most responsive to laughter – was IgA, which protects the upper respiratory tract from infections. 14 Researchers working with cancer patients have also observed that laughter seems to stimulate the activity of natural killer (NK) cells in the body. Clinical trials should help to establish this further.
Fun Aerobic Exercise: Laugh Away The Extra Pounds
If you’ve ever wished for a fun, easy, and effortless fitness regimen, here’s some good news! The connection of laughter with happiness and positivity is so intense that we often perceive laughter to be an emotion. But laughter is actually a physical activity that involves the abdominal and facial muscles and the diaphragm. When we laugh, the muscles contract and relax, leading to an increased amount of oxygen in the blood – the same benefit we get from aerobic exercise. A 15- minute laughter session can burn as many as 10 to 40 calories, depending on the person’s weight and the intensity of laughter!15
Make A Conscious Effort To Laugh!
While laughter may not be a miracle drug (just yet!), its therapeutic properties are undoubtedly being endorsed by physicians and scientists alike. That brings us to the question – when was the last time you had a really good belly laugh? While none of us can resist breaking into a giggle every now and then, getting a daily dose of laughter may not be a laughing matter after all. So, from watching funny movies and shows to that long overdue visit to the neighborhood comedy club, put some effort into keeping the laughter alive. And if that doesn’t seem to work all the time, take a cue from medical professionals and health gurus who’ve been suggesting a structured, conscious regimen involving laughter.
From laughter clubs that have been mushrooming all over the country to a “silly hospital” in rural West Virginia where clowns and comedians share pride of place with doctors and nurses, laughter is being taken seriously by experts in the field.16 Since the mid-1990s, laughter yoga or haasya yoga has caught on as a practice of incorporating voluntary laughter into one’s daily routine. This system encourages prolonged, induced laughter and is accompanied by deep rhythmic breathing. And if you’re skeptical about whether scripted or spontaneous laughter can have health benefits, a Psychological Reports study has some answers. The researchers found that even forced laughter – laughing without a humorous stimulus – can significantly boost physical and emotional wellness.17 So, effortless or not, it’s time for a good guffaw!
As research unravels more of the therapeutic effects of laughter, we can vouch for one thing. Here is one therapy that has no side effects – except that if you really laugh heartily, it may leave you with a pleasant ache in your sides!
|↑1||Fonzi, Laura, Gabriella Matteucci, and Giuseppe Bersani. “Laughter and depression: hypothesis of pathogenic and therapeutic correlation.” Rivista di psichiatria 45, no. 1 (2010): 1-6.|
|↑2||Dunbar, Robin IM, Rebecca Baron, Anna Frangou, Eiluned Pearce, Edwin JC van Leeuwin, Julie Stow, Giselle Partridge, Ian MacDonald, Vincent Barra, and Mark Van Vugt. “Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences (2011): rspb20111373.|
|↑3||McCaffery, Margaret. “Laughter is the best medicine: An interview with Norman Cousins.” Canadian Family Physician 29 (1983): 805.|
|↑4||Smith, Marcy JT, and Hans Selye. “Stress: reducing the negative effects of stress.” AJN The American Journal of Nursing 79, no. 11 (1979): 1953-1955.|
|↑5||Berk, Lee S., Stanley A. Tan, and Dottie Berk. “Cortisol and Catecholamine stress hormone decrease is associated with the behavior of perceptual anticipation of mirthful laughter.” The FASEB Journal 22, no. 1_MeetingAbstracts (2008): 946-11.|
|↑6||Happily Ever Laughter. Psychology Today.1996.|
|↑7||Ko, Hae‐Jin, and Chang‐Ho Youn. “Effects of laughter therapy on depression, cognition and sleep among the community‐dwelling elderly.”Geriatrics & Gerontology International 11, no. 3 (2011): 267-274.|
|↑8||Miller, Michael, and William F. Fry. “The effect of mirthful laughter on the human cardiovascular system.” Medical hypotheses 73, no. 5 (2009): 636-639.|
|↑9||Kelly, J. J., G. Mangos, P. M. Williamson, and J. A. Whitworth. “Cortisol and hypertension.” Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology 25, no. S1 (1998).|
|↑10||Fry, William F., and William M. Savin. “Mirthful laughter and blood pressure.” (1988): 49-62.|
|↑11||Miller, Michael, and William F. Fry. “The effect of mirthful laughter on the human cardiovascular system.” Medical Hypotheses 73, no. 5 (2009): 636-639.|
|↑12||Humor helps your heart? How?. American Heart Association.|
|↑13||Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better. University of Maryland Medical Centre.|
|↑14||Kimata, Hajime. “Differential effects of laughter on allergen-specific immunoglobulin and neurotrophin levels in tears.” Perceptual and motor skills 98, no. 3 (2004): 901-908.|
|↑15||Buchowski, M. S., K. M. Majchrzak, K. Blomquist, K. Y. Chen, D. W. Byrne, and J. A. Bachorowski. “Energy expenditure of genuine laughter.”International Journal Of Obesity 31, no. 1 (2007): 131-137.|
|↑16||A Silly Doctor’s Serious Dream. The Washington Post|
|↑17||Foley, Erin, Robert Matheis, and Charles Schaefer. “Effect of forced laughter on mood.” Psychological reports 90, no. 1 (2002): 184-184.|