Why Laughter Is No Laughing Matter (For Your Health)

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please support us with a print or digital subscription!)

Laughter does have some positive psychological, physiological and immunological impacts on our health, according to scientists. In fact there’s even a term for the study of laughter and laughing and the examination of its effects on the human body: gelotology — from the Greek gelos — meaning  laughter.

In their study “Humor and Laughter May Influence Health” in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Mary Payne Bennett and Cecile A. Lengacher report that a sense of humor influences psychological and physiological well-being. Among their findings:

  • Laughter leads to increased heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen consumption, similar to aerobic exercise. After intense laughter, body muscles relax.
  • Like other strong emotions, humor seems to activate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which shows an increase in such hormones as urinary epinephrine and norepinephrine, but blood pressure remains stable. (Sad emotional stimulus results in higher blood pressure.)
  • Exposure to a humorous stimulus decreased self-reported anxiety.
  • Laughter in response to humorous stimuli correlates with improvement of natural killer (NK) cell activity — the immune cells that kill cancerous cells and prevent some types of viral illnesses.

LAUGH AND THE WHOLE WORLD LAUGHS WITH YOU

Laughing has social benefits. Since much laughter is a social response rather than a reaction to jokes, laughing facilitates social reaction.

Laughter is also contagious. If you see someone laughing, you will probably laugh, too. One reason is because the sound of laughter is contagious: Scientists recently found that we often mimic one another’s behavior, copying words or gestures due to the mirroring system in the brain (mirror neurons fire when someone observes the same action in another).

LAUGHING EXERCISE

It’s interesting to see homespun wisdom verified by advances in scientific research. But we don’t have to wait until scientists dissect all the secrets of laughter. Here are a few laughing exercises:

  • Smile with stretching: First breathe in and out through your mouth. When you exhale, smile. Repeat few times, and then do it while stretching. Breathe in and stretch your body, and breathe out, smile and relax.
  • Facial release: Move your facial muscles. Stretch and squeeze or make a dance with your face. You will find your face becomes much more relaxed and ready for laughing.
  • Create laughing sounds: Make laughing sounds like ha-ha-ha while shaking your body a little bit or gently tapping your body parts or clapping hands. Imagine all the stress is released.
  • Laugh out loud: Start with small laughing sounds and a little motion, and then create bigger motions and louder laughter.

Soon you will realize you don’t need any real reason to laugh. Just laugh — and the whole world will laugh with you!

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please support us with a print or digital subscription!)

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