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Laughter is the outward physical expression of humor, joy and delight. And, it’s more than that. There is a strong correlation between laughter and happiness and health.
In the 1300s Henri de Mondeville, professor of surgery, encouraged post operative therapy that consisted of laughter producing humor. And Norman Cousins, a professor and journalist, developed his own mood elevating treatment based on daily laughter. Ten minutes of laughter a day, he claimed, resulted in two hours of pain free sleep.
Laughter is medicine. Experiencing giggles, chuckles and belly laughs heals the body and promotes overall health in amazing ways.
What Happens in the Body When You Laugh
All kinds of things make us laugh. A funny movie, a silly joke, our pet’s crazy antics or a child’s cute mispronounciation of a word gives us the giggles. Sometimes we laugh from nervousness, relief or even fear. Whatever the cause, during a bout of laughter the human body experiences changes.
A wave of electrical energy sweeps through the cerebral cortex. One side of the brain processes language or sights while the other side tries to make sense of what caused the laughter. We may reach a heightened emotional state that can produce tears. And we get a boost of happiness from the release of endorphins in the brain.
Fifteen muscles in the face contract during laughter. Just hearing someone laugh makes our facial muscles begin to contract, creating a contagious response.
Extended laughter makes the muscles relax and even weaken. The respiratory system responds by half closing off the larynx, resulting in gasps for air, a red face and sometimes that pig snorting sound! Extreme laughter can even cause fainting, as one of my sisters discovered.
Contracting muscles in the abdomen can even make you pee yourself as you laugh.
The Benefits of Laughter
Laughter truly is the best medicine, playing a major role in creating better health. (Read about six other simple health practices with big results HERE.)
Check out these amazing health boosters that laughter provides.
Strengthens the Immune System
Laughter, along with getting plenty of rest and vitamin D producing sunshine, strengthens the immune system. People who laugh often reduce stress related hormones in the body while increasing the number of T cells and natural killer cells, two things that help the body stay strong and healthy.
Gives the Body a Mini Workout
There’s a reason your abs feel sore after a good laugh. Laughter increases heart and respiration rates while causing muscles in the abdomen to contract. These mini workouts caused by laughter are similar to a short burst of aerobic exercise. Additionally, laughing for 10 to 15 minutes burns up to 40 calories during those big belly laughs.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
The giggles instantly lowers the body’s stress response and releases tension held in the muscles. Plus it plays a significant role in decreasing anxiety due to the release of the feel good hormones, endorphins. Laughter also helps you deal with challenging circumstances such as illnesses, embarrassing situations and life struggles.
Clears the Mind and Improves Focus
We are all familiar with brain fog. Laughter changes the chemistry in the brain, helping you think more clearly. And laughing engages the brain in a way that instantly sharpens focus, boosting productivity. Experiencing a mid afternoon slump? Watch a few minutes of a funny video like this one on YouTube.
Increases Blood Flow
Laughter increases blood flow…to the heart, improving cardiovascular health…and throughout the body. Stress narrows the blood vessels, reducing blood flow. Laughing expands them, increasing the flow of oxygen rich blood to vital organs and the extremities. Doctors discovered that leg ulcers healed faster when the patients laughed, due to increased blood flow that lowered inflammation.
Laughter loosens up the mind, creating a relaxed state that makes you feel emotionally secure. That state of relaxation enables creative ideas to surface and flourish. Plus problem solving abilities increase after a good laugh.
Better Quality of Life for Older Adults
Laughter improves the quality of life for older adults by increasing blood vessel function, relieving stress and anxiety and boosting happiness. Additionally, frequent bouts of laughter improves memory and reduces blood pressure and high cholesterol by increasing oxygen through blood circulation. Laughing increases endorphins and dopamine while reducing stress chemicals in the body. And it helps senior with bronchitis and asthma by exercising the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.
Ask people what’s important to them, in their relationship with another, and many answer “a good sense of humor”. Laughter improves personal relationships, so much so that some experts believe that all other health benefits flow from the improved social support that laughter brings. Laughing together forms bonds, deepens connections, emotionally attunes people to one another and crosses language barriers. Laughter can diffuse a tense situation and lighten moods.
Bring More Laughter into Your Life
So how can you laugh more? Try these ideas.
- smile more, signaling your brain and other people that you are ready to laugh
- inject humor into conversations by asking if anything funny happened recently
- tell funny stories and listen to giggle inducing tales from others
- tell jokes and ask for one in return
- read funny stories or crack open a joke book
- watch humorous films and comedy series
- laugh at yourself, often
- watch funny videos on YouTube
- attend a comedy club
- watch comedians online or on tv
- try out a laughing yoga class
- spend time with kids…they are often hilarious
- play with your pets and allow them to entertain you
Laughter does the heart and body good. It lightens mood, lifts the spirits and because it is contagious, it spreads easily to others, benefiting them too.
My grandchildren make me laugh. Funny movies and happy surprises do too. And sometimes I crack myself up when I’m feeling particularly witty.
What makes you laugh?
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share