Laughter has been called “the best medicine” throughout history. It is widely acceptable in many social situations and is truly a universal language. How and why we laugh appears to be largely instinctive and spontaneous, and not a consciously controlled response, sort of like a sneeze.

Laughter is said to add years to your life by reducing stress, from activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Large studies regarding the physical effects of laughter are extremely limited, because funding generally goes towards bigger causes, such as cancer, Alzheimers, etc., but there have been some smaller studies that point out the physiological and emotional benefits to laughter and humor.

What actually goes on in our body when we laugh? For starters, laughter feels good, right? It is “catching”, sort of like a yawn. When one person is laughing, it can be easy to find humor and start laughing along with them. To feel the positive response to laughter or humor, just smile. Do you notice when you smile that you automatically feel better? Try it on your way into work the next time that you are driving in traffic and feeling grumpy.

Laughter and Calories

Does laughing burn calories? Sure it does. According to Maciej Buchowski, a Vanderbilt

Laugh it up!
Laugh it up!

University researcher, subjects of his study burned 50 calories in just 10-15 minutes of laughter. Ok, so, this is a lot of time laughing for just 50 calories, but the bottom line is that it does have a calorie burning effect on the body. Laughter increases the heart rate while you are laughing, similar to a very short workout, yet has an overall post-laughter calming effect on the body! Now, you are not likely to laugh all day as part of your new weight loss/fitness plan, but knowing that it does burn calories is really just an interesting tidbit.

Laughter and the Body

The modern interest in laughter’s therapeutic values are thought to stem from Norm Cousins, who in his 1979 book “Anatomy of an Illness” highlights the connection between watching funny movies and his recovery from ankylosing spondylitis, which caused him immense discomfort and pain. Mr. Cousins found that only 10 minutes of good hardy belly laughter allowed him 2 hours of pain-free sleep.

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived b…

 Laughter has the following definitive effects on the body:

Reduces stress: Studies have shown that there is a period of relaxation following laughter, which can last up to 45 minutes. Think about a time when you had a good laugh, one that went on for more than just a couple of minutes. Do you remember how you felt afterwards?

Laughter therapy is used in some medical circles, such as cancer treatment, to help reduce stress and discomfort that accompanies illness. Through group activities that encourage laughter, cancer patients at Cancer Treatment Center of America, for example, feel better and forget that they are undergoing cancer treatment in those moments.

A Loma Linda study found that even looking forward to laughter/humor in your day had positive stress-relieving effects on participants.

Heightened immune response: Laughter helps to enhance the immune system. Some studies have shown an increase in antibodies that fight infections and immune cells. Loma Linda scientists have found that laughter increases growth hormone and decreases cortisol and adrenaline. This combination of responses helps to boost the immune system.
The Poliquin Group states that laughter helps cells fight oxidative damage caused by stress by increasing glutathione, which is produced by the liver.

Lowers blood sugar levels: According to WebMD, “one study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels“.

After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture”. This could be an interesting topic for future studies, especially considering the huge problem that exists today with obesity and diabetes.

Increases pain tolerance: This is an interesting finding. A study at Texas Tech University found that subjects watching a funny video tolerated greater discomfort than those who didn’t. Laughing increases endorphins, which are our “feel good” hormones. This increase is perhaps related to the noted increased pain/discomfort tolerance in studies.

Laughter helps the brain: A Loma Linda study states memory improves in healthy older adults as a result of the stress reducing effects of laughter. Here is another place where laughter therapy is used. Just 20 minutes a day of laughter was found to have an impact.
Another recent study at Loma Linda found a distinct connection between gamma brain wave activation from mirthful laughter and clearer, better integrated thoughts in subjects. Who doesn’t want to think more clearly and have better focus!

The Bottom Line

While studies about the physical and emotional effects of laughter are not leaping off of the library shelves, the bottom line is that laughter, particularly “mirthful” laughter, makes us feel better. Laughter is a universal language and is thought to have evolved largely for social reasons.

Laughter binds us together. It makes us feel good and feel good with others. Whether you dance, sing, or laugh, you feel better when you participate as well as afterwards. Studies have found that women, in general, laugh more than men. Maybe men seek the attention of women by being funny. What does that mean? Not sure. Thanks to the limited studies on laughter, we do know that laughter enhances relaxation, stress reduction, immune response, and pain tolerance.

With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die. Abraham Lincoln

Please share with us what type of things you do to laugh specially when you are feeling down, but you want to change your mood.

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