We all know how great it feels to have a real belly laugh, one of those episodes when you laugh so hard you can hardly breathe, and your stomach aches with the effort.
Laughing together is a great way to build bonds and feel closer to one another, and a genuine laugh or giggle-fit can make even the most dire of situations a little easier to manage. Laughter enhances teamwork, diffuses conflicts, and strengthens relationships.
But did you know there are actually measurable health benefits to laughter?
Turns out a couple of laugh-happy doctors from Loma Linda University in California, Dr. Stanley Tan and Dr. Lee Berk, researched and discovered a number of significant health benefits to laughter.
1. Reduces Stress
This one isn’t surprising, given the immediate relief one can feel hard on the heels of a good guffaw. But laughter actually reduces the level of stress hormones in the body, resulting in a feeling of enhanced relaxation.
Though the effect is short-lived, laughter therapy is being studied as a stress management tool in the treatment of anxiety and depression. In fact, Laughter Yoga classes, which involve prolonged voluntary laughter, are gaining in popularity across the globe as a means of accessing the many benefits of laughter on health and well-being.
Aside from the physically measurable affects on stress hormones, shared laughter is an excellent way of diffusing tension, anger and sadness, enabling us to put our problems into perspective and move on from confrontations.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
Studies demonstrate that laughter positively impacts cardiovascular health by increasing blood flow and improving the function of blood vessels. This in turn can help lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
3. Provides a Cardio Workout
Laughing, especially those prolonged belly laughs, is actually a great cardio workout.
Laughter gets your heart pumping, and burns about the same amount of calories per hour as a moderate walk. This is great news for those who might be incapacitated by illness or injury, and unable to get their cardio by more usual means.
4. Tones Your Abs
Hate crunches? Why not try laughter for your next ab workout?
While it won’t replace more intentional exercise for strengthening the muscles of the abdominal wall, hearty and prolonged laughter can help tone your abs. A really intense bout can even help tone the muscles of the shoulders!
5. Improves Immunity
According to Dr. Berk and Dr. Lee, laughter is also linked to lower levels of inflammation and increased activity in our T-cells, those specialized immune system cells that fight off illness.
By lowering stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, a good laugh can help improve your overall resistance to disease.
6. Relieves Pain
Laughter causes a release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, resulting in a degree of relief in chronic pain sufferers.
Laughter also seems to increase pain tolerance levels, particularly when done in groups.
7. Increases Overall Well-Being
Those same endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, can also help promote a general sense of well-being. This may partly explain why doctors often find that people who have a positive outlook on life tend to fare better at fighting disease than their more negative counterparts.
In fact, a study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor lived longer than those who didn’t laugh as much.
Just more proof that laughter really is the best medicine.