You may have heard that laughter is good for you, but do you know how good for you? Well, according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s no joke. Although laughter is not a cure-all, it does trigger physiological changes in your body that bring both short- and long-term physical benefits.
For the short-term, a good laugh stimulates many organs, carrying oxygen-rich air to your heart, lungs, and other muscles, while increasing the amount of endorphins released by your brain. Laughter triggers and then stops your stress response, which quickly increases and then decreases your heart rate and blood pressure – leaving you with a sense of relaxedness.
While you’re laughing, you breathe faster, which draws in more oxygen to feed your tissues. Your stimulated circulation quickly carries away any oxygen-depleted blood. This allows your muscles to relax more thoroughly to reduce stress-related muscle stiffness, tension and/or spasm for up to 45 minutes. It can also reduce the severity of any physical pain because laughter triggers your pituitary gland to produce painkillers, which can break the pain-spasm cycle which occurs with some chronic muscle disorders.
Not just for the short run, laughter is also good for the long-haul.
Negative reactions to circumstances trigger chemical reactions that increase the stress response in your body, producing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which increase free radicals and decrease your immune system’s efficiency.
In contrast, laughter releases neuropeptides which fight and help reverse stress’s effects.
Laughter builds your immune system. It improves the response of your body’s tumor and disease fighting cells (T-cells and Gamma-interferon). It also stimulates the production of immunoglobulin in your saliva, helping defend against respiratory infections and reducing the number and severity of colds you catch.
Laughter also protects your heart from developing heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions by lowering your blood pressure, improving the function of your blood vessels and stimulating blood flow.
Researchers at the University of Maryland found that watching drama or comedy affected people’s blood vessels differently. Their study found that watching drama restricted viewers’ blood flow. However, watching comedy improved their blood flow.
Laughter can even affect blood sugar levels. In a recent two-day study, a group of diabetics ate the same meal, attended a tedious lecture and then had their blood sugar levels recorded. The next day, the same group ate the same meal, attended a comedy performance and then had their blood sugar levels recorded. The blood sugar level comparisons showed that the levels were notably lower after viewing comedy.
Laughter can also increase your brain function. It improves your alertness, creativity, memory, and ability to learn.
Humour has a quick effect on your body. Less than a half-second after being exposed to something you find funny, an electrical wave moves through your higher brain functions of the cerebral cortex. Your left hemisphere then analyzes the words and the structures of the humour and your right hemisphere “gets” the joke. Your visual sensory area of the occipital lobe then creates corresponding images. Your limbic, or emotional system makes you happier; and finally your motor sections make you smile or laugh.
In contrast, laughter can also help you relax. Laughter stimulates your pituitary gland to release its relaxation chemicals, so laughter right now can lead to a deeper sleep tonight.
On a small scale, laughter can help you stay in shape.
Recent studies show that sustained laughter can have the same effect on your body as a mild workout. When you laugh, you stretch your diaphragm, as well as abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles.
William Fry, a pioneer in laughter research, said that it took 10 minutes on a rowing machine to get his heart rate elevated to the level it would reach after just one minute of hearty laughter.
According to an American university, 10-15 minutes of laughter can burn up to 50 calories. However, don’t throw out your fitness program; 12 hours of continuous laughter would only burn off one pound.
More laughter could really benefit your health. Why not take advantage of it? It’s simple, portable, and it’s free.
Invest in your ongoing well-being by identifying and/or creating more opportunities to laugh.
On the road in between traffic reports, occasionally escape the drama by turning your radio dial to a comedy station. When you turn on the TV on your next layover, choose a comedy show instead of a crime show.
As you catch up on the news reading the paper, take time to read the comics, too.
Later, share the funny shows, stories or jokes that made you laugh so you can laugh at them again with someone else. Stay in touch with people that make you laugh.
Good health is no laughing matter. And many times – laughter really is the best medicine.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.