Laughter Is No Joke | Hidden Health Benefits of Laughter

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You may have heard the common phrase "laughter is the best medicine," but are there really hidden health benefits tied to laughing? While there is the possibility for more studies to be done and answers to be found, studies thus far have proven that there are many health related benefits associated with laughter that go beyond improving one’s mood or demeanor. Individuals who incorporate laughing into their lives on a daily basis might be surprised by the benefits their bodies receive from the simple gesture.

From the slight giggle to a belly chuckle, laughter has more benefits than just improving your mood. In fact, laughter has been linked to health benefits similar to proper diet and exercise. 

Jeff Guse, A.R.N.P. states, "dating back to the 1300s, laughter was used by surgeons as a way to distract patients from pain. Researchers found that simply making laughter vibrations could elevate mood and improve the patient's overall mental health."

Discover other surprising ways laughter impacts the human body below as we dive into the medicine behind laughter.

Health Benefits of Laughing

Lower stress levels

Laughter can make coping with stressful situations easier. Laughter brings our focus away from negative feelings, putting the mind in a more positive state. Similar to when an individual exercises, laughter stimulates circulation in the body. This sudden stimulus of circulation increases oxygen levels while also increasing levels of endorphins and reducing levels of cortisol, epinephrine and other stress causing hormones. 

Combat Depression

Laughter can lessen feelings or symptoms of depression, possibly helping a person feel happier. Additionally, laughter stimulates the brain to produce more endorphins, which is a neurotransmitter, emitting happier feelings. Embracing humor helps our outlook become more positive and can add joy to our lives.

Improve heart health

Laughter is a healthy and safe way to increase an individual's heart rate, even for those who have trouble with normal physical activity. Laughter does not have the same side effects of physical activities that can strain the body and cause over-stimulation. Instead, it enables the heart to beat faster while requiring it to pump additional blood and oxygen to the engaged muscles and organs of the body.

Naturally decrease pain

Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that a good laugh is linked with feeling less pain. Laughing causes the body to release chemicals like endorphins, which trigger positive feelings almost acting like a feel good chemical. Breathing deeply during laughter stimulates circulation, aiding in relaxing the muscles. Laughter is also linked to breaking the pain-spasm cycle that is associated with chronic pain and muscle disorders.

Reduce blood pressure (in the long run)

After laughing, blood vessels dilate due to the increased amount of oxygen being taken in during the deep breathing that occurs during laughter, resulting in the body’s blood pressure decreasing.

Boost your immune system

Negative thoughts and stress create a chemical in the body that can decrease immunity. On the other hand, laughter increases infection-fighting antibodies, cells that regulate immune function, and cells that seek out and destroy viral and tumor cells. Laughter is also linked to boosting T cells and neuropeptides that help your body fight off sickness.

Stimulate your organs

The sudden increase in oxygen levels that occur when breathing deeply during laughter stimulates the heart, lungs, brain and various other muscles in the body. This stimulation increases cell regeneration, organ health and provides a low impact activity.

Improve Relationships

Humor can also strengthen our personal relationships. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is formed and acts as a deterrent from stress, disagreements and dissatisfaction. Laughter makes you feel good, and the good feelings remain with you even after the laughter ends. People who incorporate humor into their daily lives find that it brings joy to both them and those around them.

Burn calories

During laughter, muscles in the abdomen expand and contract, very similar to the motions that occur during abdominal exercises. The diaphragm, abdomen and face muscles actively flex and release during laughter. Have you ever felt like your face hurt or your core was sore after laughing for an extended period? This is why. 

In fact, Dr. Buchowski, from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, discovered that 10 to 15 minutes of heavy laughter can burn between 10 and 40 calories. The rate at which calories are burned depends on the individual’s body type as well as how deep and genuine the laugh was. For instance, a deep belly laugh would burn more calories than a light-hearted chuckle.

But Don’t Ditch Your Exercise Regimen Yet

Yes, genuine laughter can burn up to 40 calories in 15 minutes, but that means you would have to laugh consistently for 22 hours in order to burn a single pound. To put this in perspective, a person would need to laugh for about 7 hours and 15 minutes in order to burn off an average sized jelly filled donut. So don’t cancel your gym membership with the intention of laughing off those unwanted pounds.

How to Laugh More Often

If you are intrigued by the health-related benefits of laughter and are looking for ways to increase the level of humor in your life, consider these ideas:

  • Read the comics in the Sunday Newspaper
  • Follow accounts on social media that make you laugh
  • Do a harmless prank
  • Consider a “laughter yoga” class
  • Have a game night with fun games that lead to laughter
  • Share a joke on a regular cadence with your friends, family or coworkers
  • See what's in the humor section of your local bookstore
  • Attend a comedy club or comedy show
  • Take your friends to karaoke night, trivia night or other laughter-centric event
  • Watch your favorite funny TV show or movie
  • Learn to laugh at yourself and don't be afraid to lighten up
  • Laughter is contagious, help those around you to laugh more
  • Compile a "laughter journal", similar to a gratitude journal, to keep track of things that made you laugh to look at when your day needs a positive boost

Use Laughter To Create a Positive Outlook on Life

While we encourage laughter and while it may be beneficial for your health, it is also important to keep up with annual physical exams. Beyond regular physicals, you should also be communicating health-related concerns and questions with your doctor as they arise. An efficient and effective way to communicate with your doctor is through UnityPoint Health’s patient portal.