Unlike adults, children don’t curb their enthusiasm for laughter. They’ll happily be rolling on the floor laughing all day if they could and perhaps we should consider joining them, often. While children won’t spare a thought about the health benefits of laughter, scientists have discovered that children with a sense of humor make friends more easily, find it easier to focus, have stronger immune systems and experience an overall improvement in their physical and mental well-being.
Unfortunately as we mature and face the reality of negotiating our way through life, laughter often gets left behind, to the detriment of our health. Older adults often tend to laugh even less as they worry about finances, declining health, mobility and loneliness as spouses and friends pass on.
Research on the subject has shown that laughter is indeed very beneficial to our health, bringing about both short and long term physical and mental health benefits.
Here are the health benefits of laughter from a medical perspective
A good laugh sets off a chain reaction in our bodies. It starts with our lungs taking in more oxygen thereby increasing the oxygen in the blood which improves blood flow through all the organs and muscles of the body. The simple and spontaneous act of laughter is probably the most cost effective alternative medicine, available to each and every one of us.
Physical Benefits Of Laughter
A healthy dose of laughter greatly improves the intake of oxygen rich air into the bloodstream which stimulates not only our heart, lungs, muscles and brain. This also improves our sense of well-being by increasing the release of endorphins by the brain and helps to reduce stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine.
Laughter also builds a stronger immune system by increasing the antibody producing cells in our bodies and the effectiveness of our T cells. The physical signs of stress will be reduced and relieve pain, headaches, teeth grinding, clenched jaw, muscle tension, indigestion and sleeping problems.
Laughter is a great, natural way to exercise the diaphragm. The muscle contractions give abs and shoulder muscles a great workout, burns calories and relaxes tense muscles. The more you laugh the easier it becomes and the greater the results.
Of course the heart, being a muscle, also benefits from laughter. Without even working up a sweat it increases blood flow, improves the heart rate and blood pressure which can help protect against heart attack and disease.
Long term benefits
A daily dose of laughter, with no limit attached to frequency, is highly recommended for long term benefits.
Laughter improves resistance to disease by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection fighting antibodies, greatly improving resistance to disease.
Considering the overall health benefits of laughter, the results of a 15 year study on the link between a strong sense of humor and longevity of 53,556 men and women in Norway are not surprising. Women with high scores on humor had 48 percent lower risk of death from all four specific conditions studied, (heart disease, cancer, infection and chronic pulmonary disease),73 percent lower from heart disease and 83 percent lower from infection. For the men, on the other hand, the only link found was for death from infection. Those with high humor scores had a 74 percent lower risk of death from infection. According to the authors, the differences between genders could be due to lower humor scores as the men aged.
While your overall health improves with laughter, about 15 of your facial muscles will be working out too. As a result, the increased blood flow to your face will nourish and add a glow to your skin and a sparkle in your eyes, no extra effort required!
Emotional & Mental Benefits Of Laughter
Laughter has the ability to stop sad and painful emotions, lowering stress levels and negative feelings such as anxiety, sadness and anger. This opens the door to seeing life in a new light which is more realistic and less intimidating. Seeing the humor in difficult situations can help us manage and assist in de-escalating conflicts.
Enhanced focus and increased energy to get the job done, coupled with reduced stress levels are a direct result of the mental health benefits of laughter.
The amazing positive effects of laughter will impact all your relationships. From those close to you, like a spouse and family, to friends, co-workers and even the regulars you interact with while shopping or taking the dog to the park.
Pass it on
Ultimately, the more you laugh the more positive and lasting the impact on your emotional and mental health will be. It’s just not possible to frown when you’re laughing! While you’re at it, share the joy, the laughs and smiles with others. Even a nod and a smile in passing could have a profoundly positive impact on someone.
Social Benefits Of Laughter
The best medicine is laughter, without a doubt. Just hearing someone laughing out loud tends to make us smile. Through laughter we can make strong connections and amazing friendships. If just one person in a crowded room of strangers lets out an unexpected, spontaneous guffaw, the atmosphere instantly changes to warm and friendly and most everyone relaxes, even the odd person who may initially have raised a disapproving eyebrow is likely to muster a smile.
Sharing Is Caring
Laughter shared with loved ones not only builds strong and lasting emotional bonds but also adds joy, fun and spirit to relationships. Humor also has the power to unite people during hard times and can help heal resentment, misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
The positive bond created when laughing together becomes a strong shield from stress, criticism, judgement, fear and doubt and allows you to conquer those negatives and find positive solutions to the problem.
Break the ice
Laughter is contagious and is a quick and positive way to break the ice in many situations. By lifting the spirits of others with laughter their stress levels can be reduced in a natural way, opening the door to a more relaxed and fun interaction between everyone present.
No laughing matter
Over the past months as the reality of Covid-19 washed across the globe and country wide shutdowns, travel bans, self quarantine,social distancing and face coverings became the new normal. With rates of infection and deaths increasing daily and millions losing their jobs, no one had an appetite for laughter – we were totally overwhelmed by the magnitude of this invisible threat every country in the world was battling to conquer. Yet, if ever there was a time for the world to join together in laughter, this is it. We need to laugh hard, laugh often and laugh together.
Laughter really is the best medicine and shared laughter takes the benefits to a different level entirely. If you’re humor levels have tanked and you’ve not had a good laugh for a long while, you may have forgotten just how great you felt afterwards. Most likely, without any special equipment or much effort, you experienced a mini workout which cleared your brain, relaxed your tight muscles, perhaps your headache or other pains felt relief and you probably forgot about your troubles, even if only for a short while. But the magic of laughter triggered a multitude of other benefits you may not notice immediately.
Reboot your laugh
Of course, during difficult and stressful times our thoughts are all over the place, we struggle to focus and having a good old belly laugh would be the last thing we think of. However, now that we know how important it is to laugh and the positive impact it can have on not only our own health but also on the lives of those we care about, we have to share it. It’s impossible to hide it once you found it. Once we are able to flip the switch and reboot our own laughter it would be so much easier to get everyone else invested in the idea and so the laughter would grow, through our homes, work places, communities, towns, cities and countries.
If you’re struggling to find your laughter, there are simple ways reignite it. Bear in mind that laughing is as natural as breathing and after birth, we managed to smile, giggle and laugh spontaneously within the first weeks and months of our lives. The muscle memory just needs a nudge in the right direction for us to laugh again.
Even the physicians of royalty and emperors of ancient civilizations were aware of the physical and mental health benefits of laughter. The court jesters worked hard to keep the royal family smiling and their spirits high and throughout history humor was used in some to improve health. In more recent times, the science behind the physical, mental and social benefits of laughter have been and continue to be researched in more depth.
Here are a few starting points for your own DIY to the alternative medicine called laughter:
Start with with a simple smile. Practice your smile in the mirror, often. Look closely at how your faces changes when you smile. Before long you’ll see how it naturally softens when the corners of your mouth curl up and your eyes light up each time you smile. Practice smiling at others when you’re out and about, most will respond in kind and that fleeting response will help your own smile grow.
Go down memory lane. Old photographs and journals could easily do the trick and get you even further than a smile, perhaps even trigger a spontaneous giggle over old family, school and holiday snaps as forgotten memories of happy and special times start flooding back.
From the earliest time, jesters kept royalty and emperors in high spirits. Since laughter is contagious, it makes sense to follow the sound of laughter and join in. Perhaps invite a friend or two to watch funny movies or TV comedy shows with you. Short videos on social media is a great place to start – you’ll find more humorous videos than you could ever watch, covering just about any subject you can think of! Dump those you don’t find funny, it should at the very least illicit a smile from you to continue watching. If not, simply move on and find another until you find one that hits the spot.
Laughing with others increases the health benefits for everyone and by venturing out with a few friends to a comedy club you’ll be able to experience and feel the happy vibrations for yourself. The more you laugh, the more you’ll want to laugh and enjoy seeing the funny side of life, which, you’ll discover are plenty when your sense of humor is restored.
Laughter Yoga and laughter clubs have become very popular worldwide, with over 20,000 free social Laughter Clubs in 110 countries worldwide.
Modernized and simplified in 1995 by family physician Madan Kataria, laughter yoga is primarily an exercise program for health and well-being which combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing techniques ( Pranayama ).
Search online for a club in near you, or join an online club if you prefer, or when self- isolation rules are in place in your area.
FAQs (use this tool)
Can laughter reduce anxiety?
Laughter increases oxygen levels in the blood which increases the release of endorphins by the brain and helps to reduce our stress hormones at the same time.
Is laughter good for your heart?
Increased levels of oxygen in our bloodstream, triggered by laughter, improves the function of blood vessels and increases the blood flow through the heart and body. This can help protect against heart attacks and other heart disease.
Is it bad to laugh too much?
Overall, laughter is beneficial to our physical and mental health. However, in some cases it could:
- cause headaches
- the loss of bladder control
- trigger an asthma attack
- a quick gulp of air while laughing could result in inhaling a foreign object
- a bout of ‘side-splitting’ laughter could cause abdominal hernias to ‘pop’ and protrude.