Whoever coined the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” was right on target. Recent research seems to indicate that there are several healthy benefits of having a good laugh. It’s common sense that a good belly laugh can instantly relieve physical tension and stress—but that is just the start.
Help Your Heart
Laughter has an immediate effect on the heart. Recently, researchers confirmed that laughter increases blood flow by dilating the inner lining of blood vessels—as opposed to stress, which can cause blood vessels to constrict. This dilation is similar to that caused by aerobic exercise or taking cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins.
Research has also shown that laughter causes the body to release nitric oxide, which also dilates blood vessels, as well as protects the heart by lowering inflammation and protecting against plaque in the blood vessels.
Some scientists believe that regular laughter can actually reduce the risk of having a heart attack—and that’s no laughing matter.
A hearty laugh has been shown to cause brain waves similar to those seen in people experiencing “a true state of meditation.” Laughter engages the entire brain, giving it a workout of sorts.
Recently, laughter has been shown to improve short-term memory in older adults. A group of healthy older adults who watched a funny 20-minute video scored better on a short-term memory test than a control group of older adults—and they showed a significantly decreased level of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol has been proven to negatively affect the brain and memory.
The researchers in the video-watching study pointed out that the mere act of laughter increases endorphins, activating pleasure and reward, which in turn improves brain wave activity, amping up memory and recall abilities.
Laughter has been proven to boost the body’s production of antibody-producing cells, which leads to a stronger immune system. Specifically, studies have shown that subjects watching comedy programs had a significant increase in their immunoglobins, which help protect against colds and flu.
Other research has indicated that laughter improves the number and activity of natural killer (NK) cells—strong NK cells have been linked to increased resistance to disease and higher success rates with cancer and HIV.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter may break the pain-spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders. It may also ease pain by causing the body to produce natural painkillers called endorphins. Researchers tested subjects who were experiencing pain from a frozen sleeve or a tight blood-pressure cuff. Those who were part of a “laugh-inducing test” watched funny videos—and ultimately showed significant increases in their pain thresholds.
Laugh More—Here’s How
You can start reaping these major health benefits by laughing more. Here are some ideas to increase the amount of giggles and guffaws in your everyday life:
• Hang out with people who laugh. Do you know people who are always ready to laugh, either at life’s absurd situations or at themselves? Stick with friends like these—a humorous point of view and opportunities for laughter can be contagious!
• Inject humor into random conversations. Instead of asking someone what’s new, try,“What’s the funniest thing that happened to you this week?” or “What was the last thing that made you really laugh?”
• Seek the company of kids. Children like to laugh, and their laughter can be particularly infectious. Whoever starts the joke, everyone will end up laughing.
• Opt for comedy on TV or movies. Looking for a new program or film? Try one that makes you laugh—and ideally, watch it with some of your easy-laughing friends from tip #1.
• Go through the motions. Not a big laugher? Going through the physical motions carries some health benefits too—so try a laughter yoga class. This exercise uses “fake” laughter along with breathing exercises and gentle movements.
It’s worth it to take some of these steps in order to enjoy the valuable health benefits that laughter brings. Plus, finding something to laugh about every day is not only fun, it’s easy and free. Which reminds me of a joke…