By: KELLY SHERIDAN
An age-old saying claims that laughter is the best medicine. Though most just dismiss this as a clever, happy life quote, it may actually be based on legitimate facts. Laughter can break the ice or brighten a dull moment, but research claims that it may also be beneficial for the human body. The best physical and emotional medicine, laughter has been shown to relieve pain, improve the immune system, and contribute to heart and lung health. It has also been found to have positive effects on neurological functions.
What many do not realize is that laughter and exercise share many of the same benefits. More than just an emotional response, laughter has a significant effect on the body’s physiological functions. It stretches the muscles of the face and body, increases pulse and blood pressure, and causes breathing to become more rapid, which in turn carries more oxygen to tissues. Laughter has also been shown to decrease blood sugar levels and increases the ease of falling asleep.
In addition to these many physiological benefits, a small dosage of hearty laughter can carry the same benefits as a workout! Psychologist and laugh therapist Steven Wilson (MA, CSP) firmly believes in the physical benefits of laughter. As he said to WebMD, “Combining laughter and movement, like waving your arms, is a great way to boost your heart rate.” In terms of heart rate, one minute of hearty laughter offers the body cardiovascular benefits, the same as ten minutes on a rowing machine and fifteen on a stationary bike. It can also, in fact, burn a significant amount of calories. Maciej Buchowski, a Vanderbilt University researcher, did a small amount of research on the subject. His small study concluded that about ten to fifteen minutes of laughter will burn about fifty calories!
The benefits of laughter extend to the mind as well. Studies have indicated that laughter can cause the brain to release hormones that can affect bodily responses, one being stress relief. As discovered by immunologist Dr. Lee Berk, laughter facilitates the regulation of cortisol and epinephrine, both stress hormones. Berk and his team also concluded that laughter also produces antibodies and endorphins, both of which are natural painkillers. In addition to decreasing stress and increasing pain relief, laughter has been shown to regulate the dopamine levels within the brain. Commonly known as “the reward hormone,” dopamine is a neurotransmitter which affects mood, attention span, motivation, and ability to learn.
Considering the many ways that laughter can improve the body and mind, some may wonder as to how they may include more laughter into their everyday lives. Laughter yoga may be the answer. This activity combines the benefits of laughter with yoga, so as to provide participants with the benefits of both activities. Because laughter is a form of stress relief, it is an ideal supplement to the already calming activity of yoga. This unique activity eliminates traditional yoga poses. Instead, breathing exercises are used to fuse the benefits of laughter with yoga. Unlike traditional yoga, laughter yoga increases enthusiasm and energy, improves mood, and facilitates a positive mindset. While it is not adequate aerobic exercise for those trying to lose weight, it is a fantastic supplement to any exercise regimen.
Given the wealth of positive benefits associated with laughter, there is little doubt that more daily laughs can improve one’s overall disposition and quality of life. Taking the extra time to increase the humor in each day can result in greater mental and physical well-being. So go ahead, laugh!