Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine?
We’ve all heard the old adage. But exactly how true is it? According to numerous studies, laughter does indeed have many health benefits. Norman Cousins, an American journalist, professor and world peace advocate, published about his ability to heal himself with laughter in the New England Journal of Medicine in the 1970s. Dr. Lee S. Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan started researching the health benefits of laughter starting in the 1980s. Their research has shown that laughter helps enhance numerous body systems, including decreasing the levels of cortisol and epinephrine, which are hormones that are released when the body is under stress. One of the major benefits of laughter is that it reduces stress – almost immediately. Have you ever been in an awkward situation that was broken because someone cracked a joke? Laughter releases a plethora of beneficial hormones (endorphins, serotonin, growth hormones) while reducing the level of stress hormones.
Berk and Tan’s research also showed that laughter can boost the immune system by increasing the production of antibodies and activating the body’s protective cells, such as T-cells. Their research even suggests that repetitious laughter, which they call Laughercise,© causes the body to respond in similar ways to moderate physical exercise, including lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising good cholesterol (HDL).
In addition to the benefits listed above, laughter is good for the heart. By increasing the flow of blood to the heart, blood pressure drops. Additionally, studies at the University of Maryland showed that blood flow increased when participants watched a comedic movie versus a stress-inducing film. The increase in blood flow after watching a comedy was equivalent to light exercise. Michael Miller, a cardiologist who led the study, said, “The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.”
Laughing is also good for the brain. A study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School showed that adding humor during classroom instruction led to higher test scores. In a study at Loma Linda University, test subjects who watched a funny video for 20 minutes scored better on short-term memory tests than the control group that sat quietly for 20 minutes.
Laughing may also extend your life. In a study of 53,000 seniors done by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, researchers discovered that study participants who had a sense of humor had a 20 percent lower mortality rate compared to those who had difficulty in finding the humor in life. As this and other studies show, laughter is an essential part of aging well.
So, now that you know that laughter is good for you, how do you go about laughing more? Here’s some tips to bring more laughter into your life:
- Get together with friends. Laughter is contagious, so call up some friends who lift your spirits and go to a comedy club or a funny movie.
- Turn on the TV. With more channels than ever before, including on-demand TV, there’s always something funny to watch.
- Watch an online video. Short on time? Type “funny videos” into your favorite search engine and choose from all the choices available.
Finally, make laughing a priority. Schedule some time each day to do something that makes you laugh. If all else fails, just start laughing. Even if laughter is forced, it provides the same benefits – and you may discover that’s enough to start the real thing.