Laughter is the Best Medicine

By Melody Foster, Nicholson Clinic Contributing Author

Laughter is the best medicine, so the saying goes. But is there any truth to this message? Is laughter not only good for the soul, but good for the body as well?

Physiological Effects of Laughter

Laughter stretches muscles in the face and body and increases heart rate and blood pressure, sending more oxygen through your body. Laughter even offers some benefits of exercise, including burning calories. Miciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, found that 10 to 15 minutes of hearty laughter burns about 50 calories.

Laughter Therapy

Researchers have studied the effects of laughter on the body for decades, and it turns out, laughing may in fact be beneficial to your health. Here are a few examples:

Stimulates organs Laughter enhances intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles.

Boosts blood flow Studying the effects on blood vessels when people were either shown comedies or dramas, researchers at the University of Maryland found that laughter keeps blood vessels working properly — easily expanding and contracting. However, people who were shown dramas tensed up, restricting blood flow throughout the vascular system.

Lowers blood sugar Similarly to the study above, researchers have also found that laughter can reduce blood sugar in diabetics. A study of 19 people with diabetes found that blood sugar levels were lower after eating a meal and watching a comedy than after eating the same meal and attending a serious lecture.

Improves immune response Negative thoughts and high stress levels cause chemical reactions that affect your body by increasing stress and decreasing immunity. Some studies have shown that positive thoughts and humor increase the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body.

Reduces tension A good laugh increases endorphins (the “feel good” hormones) released by your brain, stimulates circulation, and aids muscle relaxation. It also activates and relieves stress response, leaving you feeling relaxed.

Relieves pain Laughter relaxes muscles and may break the pain-spasm cycle associated with some muscle disorders. It may also cause the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

Improves mood Laughter can make it easier to cope with difficult situations, and can lessen depression and anxiety, making you feel happier and more satisfied.

So give it a try. No matter how silly you may feel, spend some time laughing today, and see if a good chuckle doesn’t make you feel better.

“Well used, humor and laughter are essential for an optimal healing environment. It has been said, ‘he who laughs, lasts,’” says Dr. Victor Sierpina.

Author: Melody Foster, Nicholson Clinic Contributing Author

Photo: iStock