Have you noticed how frequently laughing people live happily and healthily compared with others who don’t usually laugh? There’s actually a science behind it.
In this article:
- What Is Laughter in Science?
- Laughing Is Universal
- What Does Laughing Do to Your Body?
- Health Benefits of Laughter
How Laughing People Benefit from Frequent Laughter
What Is Laughter in Science?
Before we go deeper into discussing the health benefits of frequent laughter, let’s first take a look at how science defines laughter. The act of laughing out loud is your body’s natural response to stimuli you find funny, whether it’s in the form of memories, physical sensations, sounds, or images.
What’s interesting about it is its response is fast. After your exposure to something funny, an electric current immediately runs through your nervous system going through the cerebral cortex.
Cerebral Cortex Definition: A thin outer layer of gray matter covering each hemisphere’s surface
The higher brain functions located in your left hemisphere interpret the words received and the syntactical structure from the “funny” stimuli in an analytic approach. The creative right hemisphere also gets the humor.
These processes allow your brain to visualize the humorous idea, and the emotional system produces chemicals to promote happiness, enhance mood, and increase positive emotions. Your motor functioning then makes you smile or laugh.
Laughing Is Universal
“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” ― George Bernard Shaw
Laughing is universal; no matter how old you are, what language you speak, or what your physical or mental abilities are, you can laugh.
Even people who have been accused of having no sense of humor have been caught chuckling over a funny story, unleashing a host of physical, emotional, and mental health benefits for both themselves and the people around them.
What Does Laughing Do to Your Body?
“A clear conscience is usually a sign of a bad memory.” – Steven Wright
- Laughing people experience a number of positive physiological responses:
- Relaxation of the entire body, relieving muscle tension and stress
- Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, drop and minimize pain and inflammation throughout the body
- The release of endorphins, natural feel-good substances that make you feel happy and content and have been proven to reduce the perception of physical pain
- Reduction in blood pressure combined with a moderate increase in the heart rate and improved blood circulation and oxygen intake
- The stimulation of the immune system, thanks to the release of T-cells and salivary immunoglobulin A which is triggered by laughter
Researchers at the College of William and Mary have found that “a wave of electricity sweeps through” the entire cerebral cortex (the whole brain) just before we laugh. This supports the theory that humor can actually help improve cognitive functioning by activating all parts of the brain simultaneously.
Health Benefits of Laughter
“Whatever you may look like, marry a man your own age — As your beauty fades, so will his eyesight.” – Phyllis Diller
While the science of humor is a relatively new discipline, research studies on the health benefits of laughter consistently demonstrate the connection between laughing and longevity. Researchers know that laughing lowers blood pressure while increasing blood flow and oxygen intake, all positive physiological effects that have been linked to a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Because laughing triggers the release of the drug-like neurochemical endorphins, laughing simply makes people feel better all over. Laughing also can have an anesthetic-like effect on the body, suppressing physical pain and discomfort for up to two hours following a hearty chuckle.
1. Mental Wellness
“You know you are getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.” – Bob Hope
The ability to laugh is closely tied to having a positive outlook in life, an important protective factor against numerous mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. A study at Northwestern University revealed that patients with advanced COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) who were exposed to humorous videos enjoyed better mental health than study participants who viewed non-humorous videos, supporting the connection between mental wellness and humor.
COPD Definition: Stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is an inflammatory lung disease which makes breathing difficult.
Laughing also promotes emotional well-being, helping people maintain a positive outlook and stable mood throughout the day. Optimism has been linked to improved resiliency, the ability to cope with stressful situations in spite of numerous obstacles such as disease, financial stress, or the loss of a loved one.
“I don’t plan to grow old gracefully. I plan to have face-lifts until my ears meet.” – Rita Rudner
Some of the most popular jokes involve getting older, thanks to their universal appeal (everyone ages, after all). While joking about age-related changes can help ease any anxiety over aging, as well as help to normalize common experiences among seniors, researchers in Norway have found that people with a sense of humor can expect to live longer than their humorless counterparts.
The study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined the health records of 53,000 Norwegian seniors. It examined their overall health and length of survival in relation to their ability to see the humor in situations.
Researchers discovered that after seven years, the study participants who had a “sense of humor” enjoyed a 20% lower mortality rate in comparison to those who find it difficult to laugh at daily events.
RELATED: 5 Great Longevity Tips
3. Lesser Impact from Chronic Conditions
“I think it would be interesting if old people got anti-Alzheimer’s disease where they slowly began to recover other people’s lost memories.” – George Carlin
While laughing has been shown to help prevent the onset of many physical and mental illnesses, humor is also emerging as one of the most powerful medicines for chronic and degenerative conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cancer.
A recent study by Dr. Jean-Paul Bell of Australia’s Arts Health Institute tracked the effects of live comedy on elderly nursing home patients with dementia/Alzheimer’s. Over a 12-week period, Dr. Bell and a troupe of clowns and comedians visited 36 long-term care homes in Sydney, Australia, where they told jokes, played games, and performed funny skits for the patients.
For the duration of the program, staff in the nursing homes reported that participants were more positive and happier, while aggressive behaviors by the patients decreased for about 26 weeks after the program ended.
4. Improved Cardiac Health
It may not look like it, but you do a cardio workout when you laugh. It exercises your heart and lets you burn the same amount of calories per hour as you do when you do slow-to-moderate walking.
Laughter is a good exercise for people with illnesses or an injury who cannot perform other more intense cardio workouts or play.
5. Enhanced Abs
Its workout function not only benefits the hearts of laughing people but also their abdominal area as it aids in toning their abs. Every time you laugh, your abdominal muscles contract and expand, just like how you make it work when you specifically do an exercise for your abs.
Not only that, the muscles that are not used when you laugh get to relax. The results get better when you pair frequent laughing with another more extreme abdominal exercise.
6. Memory Boost
Aside from improving heart health and brain function, laughing can also boost your memory and thinking process. The association and connections your brain creates when learning can be expanded by combining a positive emotional response and basic learning.
Recalling details, remembering information, and varying the levels of association with the brain parts — reasoning, logic, and amusement — are easier because of the linkages in the memory.
7. Promotion of Creativity
Laughter promotes creativity by increasing oxygenation to the brain and blood, increasing endorphins, and reducing the levels of stress hormones.
A study found this process true in participants who frequently laughed. Enhancing your overall brain health and strengthening its support system allow both hemispheres in the brain to work together effectively to improve creativity.
8. Improved Psychological Well-Being
When you create conversations with people and laugh, you are giving a positive and happy reaction to them at that moment, which can help lighten their mood and laugh with you as well.
This effect can aid in enhancing your psychological well-being as you see other people or your audience laugh with you. Your mind interprets it as a positive situation beneficial to its health.
Laughing people can enjoy the benefits of both amusement and well-being. Make it a habit, so you don’t miss out on better memories, ideas, and situations.
Which of the health benefits of smiling and laughing mentioned above have you experienced? Tell us in the comments section below!
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Special thanks to seniorhomes.com which contributed to this piece.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 24, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.