I always feel a little silly getting technical and medical and serious about the healing power of laughter. But with the health care crisis reaching epidemic proportions and people freaking out about the state of the world, feeling a little silly is a small price to pay. In fact feeling silly is The Comedian’s Way.
So, here are the very serious facts about laughing:
1. People who laugh habitually are 40% less likely to have a heart attack. If you’d like to develop the skills to laugh more habitually and not just when you go to a Judd Apatow movie, click here.
2. Laughing impacts how well your blood vessels expand. The better they expand, the lower your chances are for not just a heart attack but also a stroke.
3. Laughing increases endorphins. Endorphins are natural opiates, they’re the hormone released by excercising and sex. Not to say that you shouldn’t also exercise and have sex. But make fun of yourself while you do it and get twice the benefits.
4. Laughing is a good cardio workout. One study showed blood flow increased 22% after watching a funny movie. (Though they don’t say what movie, and most so-called funny movies have pretty few laughs.) And the 22% increase in blood flow is equal to a 15-30 minute workout.
Another source says 100 laughs equals 10 minutes of cardio work out. 100 laughs seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Children apparently do laugh on average 100 times a day, but adults don’t usually get past 10 laughs a day. Not to romanticize childhood. Most comedians were miserable children and probably never laughed at all. I was a very serious child, hospitalized at 5 with a potentially fatal blood disease, which I can see the humor in now. That’s because pain+time=comedy. But if you have the skill, comedy can help decrease the pain while you’re having it. Of course it’s a muscle you have to develop just like any other.
5. At the same time that laughing increases endorphins it simultaneously decreases cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone. The one they say gives you belly fat. So belly laughs decrease belly fat!
6. Laughing is so powerful that just thinking about it can increase your body’s level of endorphins and human growth hormone. (HGH, which is good for muscles, bones, and internal organs.) Human growth hormone is the one that is youngifying. But anti-aging just sounds so negative. Blood drawn from people right before they watched a comedy showed a beta-endorphin increase of 27 percent and a human growth hormone boost of 87 percent. Think how high those numbers might have been if they hadn’t had blood drawn!
7. Laughing stimulates the right side of the brain. Stimulates creativity. Which helps us make more creative decisions. And right now creative decision making seems so critical.
8. Laughing, according to the super smarty pants over at the Journal of The American Mediclne Association, or JAMA, increases catecholamines, which boost mental altertness, memory and “interpersonal responsivenes”. I’m not exactly sure what they mean by “interpersonal responsiveness”. Chatting? Making out? The ability not to seem like a drooling idiot in your next job interview?
9. Laughing enhances blood oxygen levels (according to the Journal of Biological Psychology) which is particularly important in combatting cancer, because cancer needs an oxygen-depleted body to survive. You can also, not to be too obvious here, increase your oxygen levels by breathing. Deeply! And eating a diet of raw live fruits, veggies, sprouted/soaked seeds. (More on this later.)
10. Laughing reduces the rate of cellular decay, slowing down the rate of aging.
11. Laughing increases pain tolerance. Which doesn’t make you healthier exactly, but it does make you tougher, and more equipped to deal with life. I have friends who use comedy mp3’s to get through painful treatments and tests.
12. Laughing, like yoga, gives you an internal massage. When you laugh you massage your diaphram, thorax, abdomen, heart, lungs and even the liver. Also like Chi Nei Tsang, which is a massage performed on the abdominal area of the body and descends from Taoism and the belief that the area around and behind the naval is the most vital area of the body. They say it’s where life energy is stored, generated and from which it is distributed. Internal organ massage is detoxifying, immunity boosting, metabolism raising and stress relieving.
13. Laughing helps clear mucus plugs which is good for respiratory conditions like emphysema.
14. Laughing is a de-stresser. Stress rhymes with depress. And in fact stresses depress the immune system. Laughing improves immunity and increases the body’s T-cell count. (T-cells kill invading bacteria.)
Laughing also increases something called lymphocyte blastogenesis (Blastogenesis?! great name for a band!) which apparently help the immune system work faster and more efficiently. I’m not a doctor but I do know some people who have played them on TV who are also real doctors! And I have a friend in med school!
15. Laughing reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in both diabetics and nondiabetics. According to Psychology Today, Keiko Hayashi, of the University of Tsukuba, Japan, led the study that proved this and says that he can’t yet explain the laughter-glucose connection. It could be that laughter affects the neuroendocrine system, which monitors the body’s glucose levels. Or it may be an effect of energy used by the stomach muscles.
16. Laughing increases levels of the relaxing hormone, melatonin, in breast milk. So breast feeding mothers: breast milk reduces allergic reactions in infants with atopic eczema.
17. It’s fun!
18. No negative side effects! Unless you count peeing in your pants every now and then.