It doesn’t matter whether you’re having a quiet chuckle while reading or a belly-clutching guffaw in a crowded comedy club – laughing feels good.
But, there’s nothing funny about how important laughter is for our health.
While a good giggle won’t cure any major diseases – there is a growing body of research that demonstrates the, sometimes extraordinary, positive things that laughter can do for your body and mind.
What is Laughter?
Simply put, laughter is a physiological reaction to particular emotional stimulus. What causes this reaction can vary widely across populations and individuals.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes laughter as: “A rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary action.
Fifteen face muscles contract and the zygomatic major muscle (the lifting mechanism of your upper lip) contracts as well. Simultaneously, the respiratory system is disturbed by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, making air intake irregular, resulting in repeated gasping.
It actually doesn’t sound very pleasant at all.
But it does feel great, and science is discovering that laughter has genuine health benefits – keep reading to find out some of the remarkable benefits of laughter.
It’s something we all know instinctively; laughing helps us to relax and can relieve nervous tension, and scientific research has discovered how.
Laughing reduces your levels of stress hormoones like
High levels of these hormones will keep your blood pressure and heart rate elevated while depressing both recuperative ability and immune response.
Think about it; how many times have you heard of people laughing in the face of danger? Even when a loved one passes away – we can find relief from sadness in laughing over a beautiful memory about something they did or said.
It’s a Great way to Exercise Your Heart
No, you can’t base a fitness routine on laughter (or can you?), but it’s a fact that laughing powerfully stimulates your cardiovascular system.
This Maryland School of Medicine study shows that laughter is linked to blood vessel health. The study concluded that laughing makes the tissue that forms the inner lining of our blood vessels (the endothelium) expand to increase blood flow. Stress has an opposite effect; constricting our blood vessels and consequently reducing blood flow.
Maintaining a healthy endothelium reduces the risk of
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack
While increased blood flow will make blood pressure rise; when you stop laughing, relaxation will cause blood pressure to drop back down. Even better, this relaxation effect will help lower blood pressure below your baseline. Laughing also generates deep breathing, which sends more oxygenated blood through your body.
More Fun than Sit-ups
“Laugh until it hurts.”
Laughter can be an incredible strain on your muscles; the rhythmic, sometimes convulsive contraction of muscles is often exhausting during a period of prolonged laughter.
This study published in the Journal of Motor Behavior discovered that laughter powerfully stimulates the majority of trunk muscles.
It may not be the secret to getting a six-pack, but laughing still packs a powerful punch when it comes to working your core.
The secret to laughter’s powerful pain relieving properties is endorphins.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller. It’s well-known that long distance running and other endurance activities can stimulate the production of these natural morphines; the so-called ‘runner’s high.’ But, researchers have proven that laughing also stimulates endorphin production.
Researchers at Oxford University recruited a large number of volunteers from the ranks of undergraduate and discovered that the physical act of laughing raised the subject’s pain threshold; a direct result of increased levels of endorphins circulating throughout the body.
Strengthen Your Immune System
In a study conducted on 40 college students, the markers of increased immune function were improved by laughter. Laughing both reduces the levels of circulating stress hormones and increases both the number and effectiveness of our T-cells (vital for fighting infection).
No, laughing won’t cure the common cold, but it just might make it harder to catch one. But, if you do get sick – watch something funny while you’re stuck in bed, and at least you’ll feel better about it!
Laugh Away Depression
The truth of the matter is that it’s hard to be overcome by depression while you’re laughing.
We can see that laughter is good medicine – but is it an important factor in maintaining and improving mental health?
Laughter therapy is becoming an increasingly accepted method to treat depression and anxiety in a broad range of people. Psychologists and psychiatrists are slowly beginning to incorporate this drug-free solution to relieving the symptoms of emotional distress.
The science is in, and it proves what we’ve always known – laughter is the way to brighten your outlook, reduce anxiety, and give yourself the mental boost you need to push through difficult circumstances and ahead toward better times.
As good as a good laugh can feel; there are many situations and circumstances when laughing isn’t just inappropriate, but hurtful to those around you. It’s always a bad idea to laugh at the expense of anyone else.
If it was you that was splashed by a passing bus, or had your groceries spill on the way to the car – you wouldn’t find it funny, and you would not like being laughed at.
There are types of humor that you should avoid if you want to be liked and keep the friends you do have:
- Mean humor: while an innocent prank might be funny to all involved, doing something mean like letting the air out of someone’s tire is just wrong
- Inappropriate laughter: A funeral is not the place for a guffaw – and it doesn’t matter that your cousin’s joke was just what you needed to relieve the oppressive atmosphere – don’t do it
- Inexplicable laughter: remembering something funny while walking down a packed street or in a busy office and doubling over in laughter when no one could possibly know why will make others question your mental state
Give it a Try
This is for those unusually dour individuals out there; lighten up!
Watch a funny movie, listen to a comedy podcast, read a satire – but create the opportunity to enjoy a hearty chuckle, if not an outright belly-laugh. You’ll quickly discover that even if it isn’t the best medicine, it’s still the most fun.