Laughter is the best medicine! It seems like a tired old saying, but like all old sayings, it has a basis in truth, whether the first person who said it, had any real understanding of the actual health benefits of laughter or not, they were still on to something. Obviously, laughter isn’t a form of physical medicine, but that doesn’t negate the positive physical effects that laughter actually has on your body.
An associate professor at Loma Linda University in California, Dr. Lee Berk, has been studying the effects of laughter on both your body and your brain for more than thirty years. According to Berk says your mind, hormone system, and immune system are constantly communicating with one another in ways that impact everything from your mood to your ability to fend off sickness and disease.
So sit back and let’s take a super serious look at laughter.
It goes without saying that laughter is going to have a large effect on your mental status and your overall mental health. Laughter being an expression of joy or happiness puts it in direct opposition to feelings of sadness and depression. It has a way of taking away negative thoughts that might be plaguing you or that you are obsessing over. By boosting your mood and giving you a more optimistic feeling which can remain even once the laugh is gone.
Ever notice that a brainstorming session goes better and produces more creative ideas? John Morreal, the founder of the International Society for Humour Studies states, “Humor loosens up the mental gears. It encourages out-of-the-ordinary ways of looking at things.”
Morel isn’t alone in this belief. Stanford Universities Dr. William Fry, a professor of psychiatry agrees, “Creativity and humor are identical, they both involve bringing together two items which do not have an obvious connection, and creating a relationship.”
Sound too good to be true? It isn’t! Canada’s Best Health Magazine says, “laughing for 10 to minutes raises energy expenditure, increases heart rate and can burn up to 40 calories.”
It’s not enough to replace your time on the treadmill warns Dr.Maciej Buchowski (https://faculty.mc.vanderbilt.edu/Faculty/Details/30543) of Vanderbilt University who told Best Health, “People can’t eat at McDonald’s and then expect to laugh their lunch away.”
Hey, every calorie burned helps.
Improve Your Sleep
According to Let’s Laugh, Laughter can be a huge aid to your sleep. “Having a good laugh prior to sleep reduces stress and anxiety, promoting deep, restful sleep. Laughter also provides a mild aerobic workout, which, not only energizes you in the short term but also helps you to sleep better.”
Strengthen Your Relationship
The couple who laughs together stays together. No really, it’s true. Laughter is an important tool when it comes to forming positive, healthy relationships. It can increase your sense of trust, adding strength to your emotional connections.
Lisa Bahar is a licensed marriage and family therapist and she believes, “Laughter, when genuine, is a form of joy and creates happy feelings within the system and body. Laughter serves your mental health by enhancing more positive outlooks on life and in turn, creates better coping mechanisms overall due to the defenses being lowered.”
As you are likely aware, one of the positives of fitness is that it stimulates the release of endorphins, well the same is true with laughter. A study helmed by Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford University found that pain resistance increased following a period of laughter. This pain resistance is a large indication of an increase in your endorphin level. This is not super surprising since endorphins tend to boost your mood and make you happier and so does laughter.
Improve Blood Flow and Circulation
University of Maryland researchers found that laughter could improve how your blood cells function and cause the endothelium, the tissue lining blood cells, to expand. This process has an extremely important role to play in preventing the development of cardiovascular disease. Director of preventative cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Centre Michael Miller M.D, explains, “The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, so, given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Boost Your Immune System
Happiness can improve your overall health and researchers recently found that laughter can improve the activity of natural killer or NK cells. One of the researchers explained, “As low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance and increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease, laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioral intervention.”
Laughter’s positive effects on your overall mood, stress levels and sleep all feed into the boost to your immune system.
Lower Blood Pressure
We all know that as we get older, we need to keep an eye on our blood pressure, and once again, laughter is here to help. According to Allen Klein, the author of the books, The Healing Power and Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, the effects on your cardiovascular system are very positive, stating,“Heart rate and blood pressure go up [when you’re laughing]. When you stop laughing, they go down again. Very much like what happens when you do aerobic exercise,”.
Improve Your Memory
We all gap out sometimes and forget where we put something or someone’s name. It’s common, but when it comes to memory, you need to exercise it to keep it fit and laughter is here to help. Scientists from Loma Linda University in California discovered that laughter could improve both memory and learning. The took two groups of adults having one group watch a 20-minute comedy show whilst the other group watched a humorless show. When the viewing was done, the researchers found that the comedy group had lower cortisol levels and their memory had improved by up to 43%. Dr. Gurinder S. Bains, the study’s author, breaks down the findings, “Excess cortisol can damage the hippocampus – the part of the brain that consolidates the short-term memory – and can eventually impair learning and memory.”
When it comes to your breathing and your overall respiratory health, Laughter has your back again. Allen Klein explains, “When you laugh you take in and breathe out large amounts of air. Thus your lungs get a workout and you get more oxygen in your blood, which carries oxygen to your brain helping you to think better.”
This one goes hand in hand with laughter’s ability to improve your relationships with other people. Laughter inherently makes you vulnerable, it just does. Both physically and mentally. It’s why tickling has been used in the past as a form of torture. In non-torturous conditions, what this means is, you lower your guard, and often when laughing with others, you share that vulnerability. This lowering of your natural defenses opens you up to new friends and new relationships.
Improved Muscular Health
This one isn’t that hard to wrap your head around. We’ve all laughed hard enough once in our life to leave our muscles a little achy. Allan Klein summed it up perfectly, “We all know the expression ‘fall-down laughter’ — when we laugh so hard sometimes that we can hardly stand up,” he says. “Laughter is a great muscle relaxer. Sometimes we even laugh so heartily and relax our muscles so much that we ‘pee in our pants.'”
Ease Aggressive Impulses
We all get angry. Anger is as natural as laughter, though we are more prone to tamp our anger down and keep it inside. We’ve heard for years that it’s not the healthy way to deal with your anger, but luckily laughter can help ease that building aggression and let you find a healthy way to ease those aggressive impulses. A leading couple’s relationship and family psychologist Dr. Fran Walfish (drfranwalfish.com/) says, “Laughter relaxes the body and releases stress. It also is an acceptable healthy expulsion of aggressive impulses. The sound that is vocalized can be paralleled to a scream. There is a release. The trigger for laughter is often a helpful distraction to daily worries and concerns. This is an added benefit. Studies have shown that laughter reduces certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.”
Benefits similar To Meditation
It’s hard to wrap your head around the similarities between rolling on the floor laughing and lying on the floor meditating, but they aren’t that different.
Lee Berk said in an article on Time.com states, “joyful laughter immediately produces the same brainwave frequencies experienced by people in a true meditative state.” Certified laughter wellness instructor Noreen Braman has found this claim to be accurate. “Going all the way back to Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, we know that laughter brings pain relief — and I am living proof of that. I have had fibromyalgia for many years, and since 2010 I have been finding pain relief through laughter, especially when I am leading a group in contagious laughter exercises.”
Works out your Abs
Here’s one benefit from laughter that we can all get behind. Writer E.C. LaMeaux explains, “When you are laughing, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, similar to when you intentionally exercise your abs. Meanwhile, the muscles you are not using to laugh are getting an opportunity to relax. Add laughter to your ab routine and make getting a toned tummy more enjoyable.”
Yay! Laughter boosts your T-Cells! Wait…what does that actually mean. Well, T-Cells are a highly specialized cell that is part of your immune system that is waiting around in your body waiting for a reason to jump into action. Well, when you laugh, it turns out you are actually activating your T-cells and they instantly look for any sickness to fight. So the next time you feel a cold coming on, maybe just kick back with a good comedy.
Increases Health-enhancing Hormones
We already touched on the endorphins released as a result of the laughter, but the endorphins are not alone. These hormones are called neurotransmitters and when they are increased it allows your brain to function faster, make quicker connections and it will, in turn, help you to comprehend situations and problems at a much higher rate.
It takes more muscles to frown than to smile! Another adage, but one that’s not full of truth, and you’re going to be happy when you hear why. Laughter is a physical movement and like all physical movements, you need to engage muscles. Laughter works you’re the muscles systems of your diaphragm and abdominal muscles systems as they expand and contract and the more prolonged that laughter is, the more times those muscles contract and the better work out those muscles get. We’ve all heard of side-splitting laughter and we’ve all felt that twinge of pain in our sides after a serious laugh. It also engages your facial muscles and if it’s a really good laugh, you may feel it in your legs, back and arms.
I know that I always take claims of cancer prevention with a grain of salt and I won’t be offended if you do too. However, laughter increases the level of Interferon-gamma in your body. This stimulates B-Cells, immunoglobulin and the aforementioned T-Cells and NK cells, all while regulating cell growth. All of this is very important to maintaining a healthy immune system and they are a major part of our bodies natural defense against cancer and the regulation of cell growth is a deterrent to the growth of dangerous tumors.
Stimulates the Entire Body
Consider it a full body wakeup call that can hit you as hard as a red bull. A good laugh floods your system with oxygen, and all the feel-good hormones, like endorphins and can give you an immediate pick me up…energy wise.
There is a reason that people often aim to open a big speech or presentation with a joke. You get that laugh, you laugh a bit yourself and it’s an instant boost to your confidence. Conversely knowing how to laugh at your and being willing to do so will help you learn to improvise and recover from your mistakes. Learning this trait will boost your outgoing confidence and make you unstoppable.
We talked about laughter’s effects on depression but it can also be a great way to reduce anxiety. According to Dr. Lee Berk (www.dr-lee-berk.com/) “laughter shuts down the release of stress hormones like cortisol. It also triggers the production of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, which have all kinds of calming, anti-anxiety benefits. Think of laughter as the yin to anxiety’s yang.”
By this point, I think we have really drilled down on the positive effects of laughter and it might seem like a no-brainer, but the more you laugh the less you stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, “A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.”
Makes You Live Longer
Save the best for last. No need to hit you with more stats and more quotes from doctors and experts. Numbers 1 – 24 are all the obvious reasons why Laughter will make you live longer because you’re living a life with less stress, anxiety, depression, are more fit, increased your immune system, put up some defenses against cancer and got way better sleep. But more importantly, having a longer life isn’t as important as having a great life and one thing we can all agree on, the more you’re laughing the better life you’re probably having.