24 Mar The Health Benefits of Laughter
Whether you’re giggling with your mates, chuckling at a cat video or tittering at a TV show, you could be improving your health and wellbeing. Having a sense of humour doesn’t just feel good, it actually does you some good too. Laughter really could be the best medicine.
Everyone has to deal with stresses and worries. How we deal with life’s tensions can affect our emotional, physical and mental health. When the body is under pressure, it releases cortisol and adrenaline, as part of the fight or flight response . This worked well when we were cavemen fighting tigers, but with today’s sustained psychological stress there’s less chance to burn off these stress hormones, leading to increased risk of diseases including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, depression and anxiety.
The good news is that laughter can reduce the levels of stress hormones , so that you feel more relaxed, and your body feels better too.
A good old belly laugh can give your abs a challenging work out. As you chuckle, the abdominal muscles contract and relax, improving their strength and tone . It’s a little like doing crunches- but without the pain!
Helping with hypertension
With its positive effects on reducing stress, it’s not surprising that studies suggest that laughter therapy can help reduce blood pressure. During a chuckle, blood pressure tends to rise but, over time, regular laughter appears to help sustain the blood pressure at a healthy level .
Work that body
Even when you’re ill or immobile, it’s still possible to enjoy a joke. Laughter can get your heart pumping faster. Some experts estimate that when you’re laughing the body burns as many calories as when you’re walking at a steady pace.
Happy and healthy heart
Joy doesn’t just make your heart soar; it can also make it healthier. As well as reducing stress hormones and blood pressure, laughter also decreases inflammation in the arteries and boosts the levels of the good cholesterol – HDL. All of these factors can protect against cardiovascular disease, heart-attack and stroke, which is a great reason to introduce some laughter into your life .
The body is equipped with a number of mechanisms that protect against infections and fight off illness. Studies suggest that laughter may boost the immune system by increasing the activity of the natural killer cells that attack disease. Researchers looked at women watching funny films and compared them with women watching rather less amusing tourist videos. They found that the women who laughed out loud during the film had healthier immune systems, as well as having a much better time.
The feel-good factor
Laughter stimulates the body to release lots of your natural feel-good hormones, known as endorphins . These magic messengers are like the body’s inbuilt opiate. They act to decrease pain, give you a sense of wellbeing and help you get a great night’s sleep. In fact, a study showed that people attending a comedy club were more able to put up with pain – just a quarter of an hour sniggering with friends resulted in a 10 percent increase in the pain threshold.
Groucho Marx once said that ‘a clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast’. He’s right. Laughter isn’t a cure for all ails but it can increase circulation, ease muscular tension, protect against stress and boost your general wellbeing. So, book a comedy show, arrange a night out with friends or pop your favourite rom com on the telly. Maybe fun should be available on prescription because the great thing about laughter is that it feels good, does you good and there are no side effects!