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Why laughter is the best medicine

Tags: Stress

Why laughter is the best medicineIt’s National Smile Month in June − so we thought we’d take a look at whether laughter is really as good for you as it feels.

We all enjoy a good laugh whether it’s a belly laugh while watching a comedy film or a giggle with mates over something funny that’s just happened at work.

But did you know that smiling and laughter have actually been proven to have health benefits too?


Laughter helps you deal with pain better

Research from Oxford University suggests having a good laugh with friends really does help us deal with pain better. When we really laugh properly (rather than politely titter), the physical exertion leaves us exhausted and thereby triggers the release of protective “feel-good” endorphins. These chemicals help us deal with pain better and induce feelings of well-being.

The Oxford study found that participants who watched 15 minute clips from comedies like Mr Bean and Friends had higher pain thresholds than those who watched nature programmes or golf clips. They found the same effect on the body after people watched stand-up comedy. 

Laughing is good for your heart health

Researchers at the University of Maryland have found that laughing has a beneficial effect on the endothelium lining blood vessels. Laughter appears to cause the tissue to dilate or expand in order to increase blood flow.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Miller said that, as the endothelium is the first line in developing atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease – and at the very least it reduces stress.

“The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise,” says Dr Miller.

“We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system,” added Miller. 

A chuckle gives you a work-out and burns calories too

One leading researcher in laughter medicine, Dr William Fry, claimed it took 10 minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after only a minute of belly laughing. And research conducted at Vanderbilt University found laughing raises energy expenditure and increases heart rate by between 10 and 20 per cent. The researchers said 10 to 15 minutes of laughter could increase energy expenditure by 10 to 40 calories per day, which could translate into a loss of about four pounds a year. 

Laughter relieves stress and may boost our immune system

The actual act of laughing or even smiling can relax the facial and scalp muscles, helping to alleviate the kind of muscle tension we associate with stress,” says behaviour expert Judi James.

Even if we start by faking the laughs the change of body state can prompt inner feelings of happiness and well-being.

It can be all too easy to ‘relax’ by watching the news or gloomy soaps or documentaries but switching to a diet of comedy shows can be far more effective in terms of unwinding and allowing the pressure of the day to evaporate. 

Sharing a laugh is good for relationships

Sharing a laugh can be one of the easiest ways of uniting the entire family, says Judi.

A sense of humour can be part of the family DNA, meaning sharing the joke is easier because shared memories mean you all ‘get’ it. One of the joys of strong, long-term relationships is that one small glance can set off a fit of the giggles with neither of you having to explain what’s so funny. 

Humour helps you cope with work stress

When we become too absorbed in the serious side of our jobs it can trigger our survival responses, which can in turn convert to stress, explains Judi.

We see normal challenges, problems or even mistakes or failures as something akin to a matter of life and death.

Our brain goes into panic mode and our bodies respond in kind. By allowing ourselves to laugh we can also allow ourselves to minimize the sense of threat, which helps us deal with any problems in a calmer, less emotional way.

Laughter can also be the glue that bonds a team together. “Most of the strongest teams I have worked with use humour and laughter to create rapport and minimize conflict, recalls Judi. 

How to get more laughter in your life

  • Buy DVD boxed sets of your favourite comedies and watch them if you’re down.
  • Listen to comedy on the radio rather than gloomy news bulletins.
  • Make other people laugh. You don’t need to do stand-up comedy but pulling the odd face, relating funny incidents or being spontaneous now and again will work.
  • Swap moans for jokes. Work out how long you currently spend moaning and reallocate that time to making yourself and others laugh.
  • Go to comedy clubs. These have thrived during the recession as a cheap form of entertainment. Many pubs host an open mic night and it’s usually cheap (or free) to get in.
  • Take a look at YouTube. Remember Fenton the deer-herding dog?

If you feel that your mood could do with a boost and have a specific question for one of our experts, including Judi James, why not submit a question on the site

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