Laughter may truly be the best medicine!
You may wonder why this post is under the category Move and Move Often, but laughter actually exercises several muscles of the body, including your face muscles, abdomen, shoulders, and back.
“Laughter is the best medicine” is more than a catchy phrase. Laughter has both psychological and physiological effects on the body that can lead to dynamic psycho-physiological changes. Learning to laugh makes life more enjoyable. Laughing is contagious. It is almost impossible not to laugh and smile when you hear the raucous giggle of an infant. You may have a smile on your face right now with just the thought of it.
Psychologically, laughter helps eliminate anxious, angry, and gloomy emotions. It reduces stress and promotes a sense of relaxation. Laughter is a coping mechanism and strategy with the ability to promote confidence and create a feeling of optimism in difficult situations.
Laughter alleviates pain and discomfort. The subsequent surge of endorphins during a good laughing episode is like receiving a temporary morphine shot, and a study suggested that laughter actually increases your pain tolerance.562 Endorphins not only naturally relieve pain, they promote an overall sense of well-being and euphoria. Remarkably, one study concluded that just the mere anticipation of a good laugh releases not only endorphins, but human growth hormone.563 A good hardy laugh may also relieve tension by encouraging the muscles to relax.
Laughter enhances blood f low and improves the circulation of oxygen to tissues. A study conducted by the University of Maryland illustrated that laughter causes the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, to relax, expanding blood vessels and increasing blood f low.564 This suggests that laughter is actually beneficial to the heart and brain because they require a continual f low of oxygen from the blood.
Laughter may stimulate immune system activity. Some research indicates laughter may raise antibody activity and reduce levels of stress hormones.565,566 Norman Cousins famously battled his destructive disease, ankylosing spondylitis, with laughter and high doses of vitamin C. He contended that a good belly laugh provided him with two hours of pain free sleep. Amazingly he actually recovered from his illness reportedly through mega-doses of vitamin C, laughter, and a positive attitude.
Laughter appears to have social benefits as well. Laughter is so contagious that when you hear laughter your brain is primed and prepared to laugh. Laughter positively affects relationships and can help two people grow closer together. Laughing together can forge a connecting link and bond. Finally, laughter is attractive, with a tendency to draw others in.
Research has also demonstrated the ability of laughing to reduce blood glucose levels following the consumption of a meal.567 This makes laughter a supportive therapy for diabetics. Another reported benefit of laughter for diabetics is a possible reduction in the risk of heart disease—something diabetics have an elevated risk of. One study demonstrated the ability of laughter to reduce blood vessel inflammation and increase HDL cholesterol, thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease among diabetics.568