Laughter is the best medicine! We’ve heard the old aphorism time and time again. But we’ve also likely experienced it. When we laugh we tend to feel better.
But why do we feel better? What’s going on in our bodies? And what are other social and health benefits of laughter we might not know about?
This article shares 9 benefits of laughter that bust open the research and give you every reason you need to let the guffaws into your life!
9 Benefits of Laughter
1. Laughter Reduces Stress
When we laugh, we tend to let our worries go! In a study published in the American Journal of Medical Science, Dr. Lee Berk found that patients had significant reductions in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline after watching humorous videos. These hormones are responsible for weakening our immune systems, having us gain weight, and destroying organ functioning.
2. Laughter Stimulates Blood Flow and Organ Health
When we laugh, we breathe in more oxygen, which oxygenates our blood and increases blood flow to vital organs and muscles. Oxygenating our organs keeps them healthy and functioning properly. In a study done at the University of Maryland, researchers found that participants’ blood vessels expanded and contracted healthily after watching comedies. In contrast, after watching dramas, the participants’ blood vessels restricted blood-flow.
3. Laughter improves our immune systems
A well-functioning immune system has a lot to do with decreasing stress in our lives and allowing oxygen to flow more freely through our blood and organs. Accordingly, it makes sense that laughter improves our immune systems. Studies have shown that laughter increases the response of tumor and disease killing cells, and raises the levels of infection-fighting antibodies and white blood cells in the body.
4. Laughter Relieves Pain
When we laugh, our pituitary glands release opiates – natural pain killers. The opiates help significantly relieve our pain. This possibility was first introduced by Norman Cousins in his oft-quoted Memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. In the memoir, he tells his story of using humor to recover from an excruciatingly painful disease. He found that after watching funny comedies, he was able to sleep without pain. His findings about the benefits of laughter for pain relief have since been replicated in many follow up studies.
5. Laughter is a Gateway Drug to… Happiness
When we laugh, we feel happier and more satisfied. It becomes easier for us to process even the most difficult situations, and even helps us to alleviate depression. Based on earlier mentioned benefits of laughter, you can see how this is the case: laughter causes a decrease in stress, increase in heathy blood flow, and helps us to feel better. The result: a gateway to happiness! Also, if you haven’t noticed, laughter is impossible without also smiling. And smiling – as we covered in a previous article – is also a gateway to happiness!
6. Laughter Burns Calories
Few people have thought of laughter as a way to get in shape. But laughter is a calorie burning machine. When we laugh, we exercise our core abdominal muscles, as well as our diaphragms, faces, legs, and backs. All that stimulation burns calories: about 1 to 3 of them per minute. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but think of it this way: Running burns about ~100 calories a mile, so laughing for a hour is about equal to a 1 mile run. An unexpected but welcome benefit of laughter!
7. Laughter Improves Memory
It’s often believed that lighthearted people who enjoy a good laugh don’t take their responsibilities seriously. But new research out of Johns Hopkins Medical School has shown that the opposite is true: students who experienced humorous instructions did better on their test scores than other students. Surprising? If you’ve read the above health benefits of laughter, not really. Decreased stress, increased blood flow, smiles… it’s perfect breeding ground for optimal performance.
8. People Laugh Much More with Friends
When you watch a funny movie alone, do you laugh aloud much? What about when you watch with a group of friends? A seminal study out of the University of Maryland showed that laughter is, mostly, social. People are 30 times more likely to laugh when they are in social settings than when they are alone. The benefits of getting together with friends don’t stop there: social support is perhaps as good for your health as laughter. So you if you want a good reason to spend more time with people you care about, now you have two huge ones!
9. It Takes Seconds for Laughter to Transform Your Life
It takes a fraction of a second for a person to understand a joke. Electrical waves move through our cerebral cortexes and into our emotional limbic systems and motor systems. The emotional limbic system controls our emotions – thus allowing us to enjoy a joke or funny moment. The motor system influences our facial movements and laughter. Upon beginning to laugh, our heart rates speed up almost instantaneously, and more blood becomes oxygenated, influencing our health. At the same time our cortisol and adrenaline levels begin to lower, decreasing our stress levels. Seconds… that’s all it takes!
Conclusion: The Health Benefits of Laughter are Too Numerous to Ignore!
Enjoy funny books, movies, and most of all people. And laugh!
Your body will thank you.