Have you ever had that exhausted feeling after a good laugh? You know, the one where your side hurts, your eyes water, you can’t catch your breath and your body’s totally spent. It feels like you’ve just finished a two-hour session at the gym.
Laughter and exercise may share more in common than you think – most notably, both can boost your health. Sure, you know about the infinite benefits of an active lifestyle, but did you know that laughter can support the immune system, improve blood pressure, stimulate the organs and reduce pain?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves – watching funny movies all the time won’t lead to perfect health (in fact, being a couch potato will do more harm than good), but remembering that laughter has powerful benefits should get you smiling. In fact, psychoneuroimmunology is a field of research dedicated to deciphering the relationship between human behavior (in this case, laughing) and the mind, and how it affects the immune system.
Trying to prove the beneficial effects of laughter is tough since everyone defines and reacts to humor differently, and the physical responses based on laughter can mimic similar behaviors, like talking or screaming. Also, the subject of laughter as medicine hasn’t elicited many large-scale studies thus far.
However, existing research gives us hope that our old knock-knock jokes aren’t just making people feel better; they actually are making them better. Let’s look at some of the ways in which laughter really is the best medicine.
10: It Decreases Stress
It’s hard to worry about that big test after seeing your cousin fall head first into the cream pie on your kitchen counter. While you roll on the floor in hysterics, the only thing you’re stressed about is what’s for dessert.
Levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine tend to decrease during bouts of laughter. These
hormones can suppress the immune system, opening the floodgates to a host of infections, illnesses and general poor health. One study found that laughter helped reduce stress and improve immune function – or natural killer (NK) cell activity – an indication that laughter may be an extremely beneficial addition to treatments for cancer and HIV patients. NK cells are a type of white blood cell that attacks tumor cells and those infected with virus.
Physical and emotional stress can also throw prolactin, insulin, thyroid and other hormones out of whack. Again, the inconsistent production and release of various hormones may have an immunological effect on the body.
So the next time you’re feeling stressed after reading about what’s going on in the world, flip the newspaper to the comics and lighten the mood.
Next up, see how laughter can help you through a difficult situation.
9: It Helps Coping Skills
Life is out of our control, and that feeling of helplessness can be very scary and stressful. A negative prognosis, the loss of a job and even a breakdown on the highway are sudden, and usually unwelcome, events that we rarely can prepare for. Laughter is a good way to cope with life’s unexpected curveballs and help us get over the shock.
Though we can’t control what happens in life, we can control the way we react to these events. Responding with laughter can protect the mind, body and spirit and put other people at ease. A bleak situation, such as a death in the family, doesn’t seem as daunting or hopeless when there’s laughter in the room.
8: It Improves Blood Pressure and Flow