Whether getting together with friends and family, watching a comedian on television, or visiting the poo-flinging monkeys at the zoo—if it makes you laugh, you should do more of it.
Science says so!
As scientific research continues to advance since the Norman Cousins’ hypothesis of the 1960s, the body of evidence is increasingly strong that laughter is good for you in a variety of ways. Pain relief, hormone balance and improved heart health are just a few of the benefits that can come from engaging in laughter and humor each day.
Health Benefits of Laughter
We all know that laughing feels good, but here we’ll take a deeper look at exactly what laughter can do to improve your health:
Balances Out Hormones
In our stressful world, the hormones that are released to produce the fight-or-flight response, cortisol in particular can wreak havoc on our bodies. According to one study, the use of humor has been traced to biochemical changes in the hormone levels in the body, specifically reducing cortisol, epinephrine, and other hormones that negatively impact the health.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Practicing laughter actually has the ability to lower the blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a warning sign for all sorts of diseases. A study performed by the University of Maryland Medical Center shows that the lining of the blood vessels responds well to humor and laughter. Volunteers who watched a film that increased their mental stress were shown to develop vasoconstriction, where blood vessels constrict and blood flow decreases. In contrast, a comedic film was shown to cause the inner lining of the blood vessels to expand in order to accommodate better blood flow.
Improves Heart Health
High blood pressure and hardening of the arteries are some of the first sings of an unhealthy heart, so it stands to reason that when these are counteracted with laughter, the heart is healthier.
One study on a group of diabetic patients revealed that patients who were regularly subjected to humor had fewer heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), lower blood pressure, less need for the use of nitroglycerin for angina, and a markedly lower incidence of heart attack.
Boosts Immune System
Your body has a fascinating ability to heal itself from illness, injury and disease, but a body that is under stress is less likely to be able to recover on its own. This is due to the way that stress hormones interfere with the immune system and infection-fighting antibodies. One study has shown that giving the brain and body access to humorous situations promoted a positive immune response, with improved NK cell activity, in generally healthy people.
Not that you should skip the workout, but an additional benefit of laughter is that it burns up to 40 calories when you laugh for just 10-15 minutes. This means that, over the course of the year, you could lose from 2-4 pounds just by laughing! Plus, since laughter fights off cortisol, and cortisol promotes weight gain, you’ll be doing yourself a double favor when you get a good belly chuckle.
Builds Abdominal Muscles
Have you ever laughed so hard that your stomach muscles hurt? Of course! During laughter (not a minor little chuckle but a deep belly laugh), you are strengthening those core muscles that hold your body up. This is great news for toning your diaphragm as well as your trunk muscles, which support your spine.
One study showed that laughter yoga may actually engage the trunk muscles more effectively than performing traditional abdominal exercises such as crunches or back-lifting exercises.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins in the body that promote an overall sense of well-being while naturally acting as pain relievers.
As mentioned above, Norman Cousins used himself as a guinea pig when he was diagnosed with the painful illness, ankylosing spondylitis. Cousins believed that stress had caused his pain and was of the opinion that positive emotions could help him to heal.
During certain periods of time when even morphine couldn’t help him, Cousins found that 10 minutes of belly laughter could give up to hours of sleep without pain. Ultimately, without medical intervention but with laughter therapy, he was healed of this illness that doctors had originally predicted would kill him within a few months. The whole story is documented in Cousins’ book: Anatomy of an Illness.
Laughter Makes You Live Longer
Since laughter improves all of these facets of your health, it stands to reason that good dose of laughter each day can add years to your natural life span!
According to a 2016 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, women with “a strong sense of humor” were found to have a longer life expectancy. This was true even if these women had illnesses such as infection or heart disease.
How to Get More Laughter in Your Life
As it turns out, when it comes to maintaining your health naturally, laughter may just be the best medicine. So now you know that you need to incorporate more humor into your life, but how?
Of course, spending time with funny people is a great way to pepper in the benefits of laughter. But what if you work with boring people and don’t have friends or family who are funny? (Maybe they’re the Eeyore to your Winnie-the-Pooh) You can trade in your friends for new ones, of course. But you might not have to take such drastic action.
Even if your friends and family aren’t funny, you can still get your humor quotient in a few different ways. Here are some easy ways to make sure you get your daily dose of laughter on the regular:
Stand Up Comedy
Skip over that heartfelt-but-depressing opera and spend your weekend evening at a comedy club instead. You’ll not only be inspired by the funniness that stand-up comedians have to offer, but the people surrounding you in the club should all be in better moods as they’re getting their daily dose of laughter as well!
If you can’t squeeze live humor into your schedule, consider listening to funny podcasts on your commute to and from work. Just don’t be surprised when your fellow commuters are staring at you and wondering what’s so funny! But don’t worry. Your laughter may just cause them to laugh too—so you’ll be doing them a favor.
Stretching and bending doesn’t seem that funny to you? You’re right, it’s probably not. But Laughter Yoga is a whole different kind of therapy that creates sessions for simply laughing. (And, no, you don’t have to be striking the Downward Dog pose for it to work.)
Did you know that your laughter doesn’t actually have to be “genuine” in order to get the positive health benefits? Forced laughter can be just as beneficial to the body and mind as laughing that is stimulated by something funny.
In a Laughter Yoga session, you’ll sit with others who also crave the benefits and you’ll just start laughing. At first it can seem a bit weird and uncomfortable, but as you get deeper into your therapy session, the laughter will begin to flow naturally and your funny bone will be fully engaged!
Our grandparents used to look to the newspaper for their daily dose of comic strips. Now, you can get humorous emails sent to your inbox every day through websites such as A Joke a Day. Perhaps you’ll find a regular dose of humor (even a groaner of a joke) will tickle your fancy and get you started on the road to laughter.
So if you’re looking to live longer—and who isn’t?!—then you may find inspiration in this quote attributed to W. E Neesom:
“He who laughs, lasts longest.”