Laughter, A Natural Remedy for Good Health!
Laughter is quite powerful, and few things are as emotionally satisfying as a great big, deep, belly laugh. Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
One of the most influential account of the health benefits of laughter comes from the book, Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins. The text was an anecdotal account of Cousins’ return to health after being diagnosed with a devastatingly painful, inflammatory condition known as ankylosing spondylitis for which he was told there was nothing doctors could do. The book was so profound that Cousins was eventually hired as a professor and researcher at UCLA School of Medicine where he spent the next 20 years teaching and researching the true merits of laughter in healing. As it turns out, that old adage of “laughter is the best medicine” may actually ring truer than once thought and there is even science to prove it!
5 scientifically supported health benefits of laughter:
Laughing can be considered an ab workout
As anybody who has had a good laugh the day after a hard-core ab workout will tell you, laughing causes the abdominal muscles to contract and relax in much the same manner as intentional workouts do. In a study of laughter yoga (a yoga practice focused on breath and laughter), researchers found that compared to traditional crunch and back lifting exercises, engaging in laughter yoga resulted in significant activation of five different muscle groups found in the trunk. The study further concluded that the activation level of the internal oblique muscle group during laughter yoga was higher compared to the traditional exercises.
Laughing lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure is a very insidious condition that many people only find out they have incidentally at an appointment for something else entirely. It has few outward symptoms early on, but make no mistake, it is wreaking havoc on cells and organs inside the body. High blood pressure is a known precursor to more severe cardiovascular disease including death or serious disability due to heart attacks and strokes and the earlier one develops the condition the higher these risks are. Luckily, a number of studies have shown the beneficial impact of laughing on blood pressure. One 2017 study evaluated the impact of laughter on the blood pressure of patients undergoing hemodialysis treatments. Participants saw a decrease in blood pressure after listening to 16-30 minutes of recorded comedy over an eight-week time period. Another study exposed participants to either laughter or music and found that immediately following the sessions, the laughter group’s blood pressure was lowered by 7mmHg vs only 6mmHg in the music group.
Laughter reduces stress hormone levels
Stress is associated with changes in levels of both hormones and neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol. Research reveals that humor and laughter have been shown to stimulate several physiological mechanisms known to decrease levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and to increase activation of the dopamine producing reward system in the brain. Additional studies that involved viewing a comedic film found reductions in a variety of hormones related to the stress response.
Laughter supports immune function
While getting the flu is nothing to laugh about, the next time flu season rolls around might be a good time to start laughing it up more often! Several studies have shown how powerful laughter can be when it comes to enhancing the power of the immune system. Researchers have found that in some instances, laughter has shown the ability to positively impact the function of a particular type of immune cell, the natural killer or NK cell.10 NK cells are specific cells that are best known for killing virally infected cells, and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer. Another study where college students viewed either a humorous video or an instructional video revealed that those that saw the humorous video had increased levels of salivary IgA (a marker of immunoenhancement).
Laughing is good for your heart
The American Heart Association supports the use of laughter as a means to protect heart health. They go on to say that laughter has positive benefits on cholesterol levels as well as reducing arterial inflammation. Additional research found powerful benefits of laughter on the heart and cardiovascular system. The study exposed participants to comedy clips like Saturday Night Live or bleak scenes known to increase stress such as the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan. They then used a special ultrasound to assess brachial artery reactivity. Participants who watched the stress inducing scenes experienced a 35% reduction in flow mediated dilation (FMD). FMD is a measure of how blood vessels dilate or contract and a reduced rate is associated with increased risk for atherosclerosis. However, those who viewed the comedy clips experienced a 22% increase in FMD meaning their blood was flowing better.
Laughing: a demanding exercise for trunk muscles.
Effect of Humor Therapy on Blood Pressure of Patients Undergoing Hemodialysis
Humor modulates the mesolimbic reward centers.
Music and Laughter May Help Lower Blood Pressure
11 Scientific Benefits of Having a Laugh
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