It may seem obvious why we laugh – because something is funny! – but laughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up. It also has a number of beneficial short- and long-term physical effects. Here's a look at why laughter is the best medicine.
Because laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, it stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the production of endorphins in your brain, which, in turn, reduces the effects of stress. Endorphins are a type of hormone produced in the body that reduce pain; they’re also released in response to exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food, love and sexual orgasm.
A good belly laugh also fires up and then cools down your body’s stress response, and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help diminish some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up; it's also good for you over the long term. Laughter may:
Increase blood flow. In 2005, researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. Twenty volunteers (10 women and 10 men) were included in the study. All participants had normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Volunteers were shown part of two movies at the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum; some participants watched a segment of a movie that would cause mental stress, such as the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan; others watched a movie that would produce laughter, such as King Pin. After the screenings, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally -- expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.
Improved immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response. Some studies have shown that responding to humour may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells as well.
Blood glucose levels. A Japanese study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood glucose. After eating a meal , study participants attended a boring, monotonous lecture. The next day, the group ate the exact same meal and then watched a comedy television show. After watching the comedy, the group had lower blood glucose levels than they had after the boring lecture.
Relaxation and sleep. Enjoying a good laugh just prior to bedtime reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes deep and restful sleep. Laughter also provides a mild aerobic workout, which, not only energizes you in the short-term, but also helps you to sleep better.
Finally, laughter can make you look younger. As many as 15 facial muscles work together to help you smile and laugh. This increases the blood flow around the face, which in turn helps to make you look younger and healthier.
So laugh it up … you’ll be doing both your mind and your body a world of good!