Laughter: The Best Medicine?

smiley face showing thumbs upIt’s an oft-repeated line: “Laughter is the best medicine.” But is it trite or true?  We did the research for you, and here are the results:

Laughing makes you feel good

The act of laughing stimulates the reward center of the brain. This triggers the release of chemicals, such as endorphins and dopamine, that make you feel good. These are the same chemicals that cause the “high” feeling people get from drugs. By laughing, you get a natural high with none of the awful side effects illicit street drugs would give you. Have you ever laughed so hard you forgot you were in pain? That was caused by the extra endorphins your laughing created. Endorphins promote feelings of well-being and contentment.

A good chortle can also lower stress hormones and raise your serotonin levels. Serotonin is an important brain chemical that helps fight depression, so if you’re feeling sad, find something to laugh about.

Laughing makes your body feel well, too

Laughter also relaxes the whole body, and relieves physical tension. After a hearty chuckle, your muscles can stay relaxed for up to 45 minutes. As mentioned above, it decreases your stress hormones, thereby boosting your immune system. A stronger immune system improves your protection against disease. Some studies also show that laughter reduces inflammation throughout the body.

Laughter even improves your heart function! It causes the tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels to expand, increasing your flood flow. This can help prevent heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. As an aside, stress causes the tissue to constrict, reducing your blood flow. Another benefit is that after you laugh , you’re forced to take deep breaths. That moves more oxygen through your blood, further relaxing you.

Laughing also burns calories, and provides a light workout for your heart, lungs, and diaphragm. While you can’t forego the benefits of a proper workout, a daily giggle can burn enough calories to lose around three pounds a year.

Laughing gives you many other benefits

There are many social benefits to laughter. It helps strengthen relationships and attracts others to us. Everyone loves happy people, and laughter is the best indication of happiness. It also promotes teamwork and group bonding. Many public speakers will incorporate jokes into their speeches, in order to get their audience to bond through laughing.

Hilarity and humor helps deescalate tension in conflict situations. If two people who are in conflict can find something funny to giggle about, they can also find a peaceful resolution to the issue.

Are there any downsides to laughing?

Is laughing contraindicated for people with certain medical conditions? Can you actually die laughing?

"When you laugh, your blood vessels dilate. I'd rather dilate than early."
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Not really, experts say. Dr. William Fry, professor emeritus at Standford University, has intensively studied the health benefits of laughter. He says, “The incidence of heart attacks suffered while laughing is surprisingly low.”

Of course, it’s important to avoid extremely intense or forced laughter. You want your giggling to be natural and fun, because at a certain point your body will stop producing feel-good hormones and very quickly descend into distress.

How to incorporate laughter into your medical care

Laughter can not replace medical care. But as we noted above, there is a wealth of evidence that a good giggle can help you stay healthier, heal faster, and manage pain. Here are some ways to use laughter as a health aide:

  • Hang funny quotes or comic strips in the rooms you spend the most time in. If you or your loved one are in a nursing home, hang funny signs around the room.
  • Encourage joke sharing and laughing between you and your medical providers.
  • Read good-quality joke books or comics like Garfield.
  • You can also listen to good comedy routines, especially if you can’t read due to visual impairment.
  • Watch hilarious clips online.
  • Practice smiling. Smiling has its own benefits, and also gets you warmed up to laugh.
  • Spend time with funny people who make you chuckle. Children are especially good at laughing and making us laugh.
  • Try a laughter club—where people get together just to laugh.
  • Laugh at yourself. We tend to take ourselves too seriously, which can create a lot of pressure. Laughing at yourself will allow you to be more authentic.
  • Find the funny in every situation. Especially in stressful situations, finding the funny side can relieve a lot of tension.

Have a pleasant, laughter-filled weekend!

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