What Happens When We Laugh…

...and does the world really laugh with us?

by Dr. Michael B. Finkelstein, M.D., F.A.C.P., A.B.H.M.
posted on August 05th 2010

They say laughter is the best medicine and indeed that seems to be true. 

We change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster sending more oxygen to our tissues. People who believe in the benefits of laughter say it can feel like a workout and may actually offer some of the same advantages as one. 

The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar and the combination of laughter and movement, not only generates the feeling of happiness, but increases your heart rate and makes for a healthier heart. 

Laughter’s Effects on the Body

In the last few decades, researchers have studied laughter’s effects on the body and turned up some very interesting information (listed below) on how it affects us. 

Blood flow − Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. After the screening, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally − expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow. 

Immune Response − Increased stress is associated with a decrease in many aspects of immune system response. Some studies have shown that the effects of humor may raise the level of infection−fighting antibodies in the body and boost the circulating levels of immune cells as well. 

Blood Sugar − A study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. On the first day, after eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group was given the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture. 

Relaxation and Sleep − The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him to enjoy two hours of pain−free sleep. Most of us know how it feels when we laugh and the pleasant sensation of the immediate release as well as the lingering period of “tensionlessness”. More so, we are well aware of the anxiety and angst we experience when we observe, hear, or even think of something upsetting. It is important to realize that our body is part of these “experiences” and that the biochemical processes within it shift accordingly. 

The research above and much more reveal that the benefits of laughter are tangible and have long−lasting effects that can substantially improve not only the quality of our lives but vitality and longevity as well. To the contrary, depressed individuals, e.g. people who might find it harder to laugh, are more prone to chronic conditions and premature death. In between these extremes, there is the average person who should consider laughing more if they are serious about their health and well−being. We should make laughter a priority in our lives and a strategy for healthy living.

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