By Shelly Pinter
“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” Lord Byron
We all know how great it feels to release when we laugh. It appears that everyone enjoys laughing so much that we specifically seek out movies, cartoons, and stories that make us laugh.
I was curious as to the actual effects of laughter on the human body and what studies, if any, have been conducted related to the topic. During my investigation, I came across a website called HelpGuide.org which provides a lot of information related to mental health and wellbeing. Included on this website was an article “Laughter is the Best Medicine”. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm. I found a lot of helpful information on various topics at their site. Please check it out.
There are physical, mental, and social benefits to laughter. Physical health benefits include boosting immunity, lowering stress hormones, and even decreasing pain. Mental health benefits are probably the most familiar to us and include relieving stress, improving one’s mood, and even reducing anxiety and fear. The one I hadn’t really thought about were the social benefits of laughing. Laughing actually strengthens relationships and promotes group bonding. I use humor every day at work. I always thought it was so I didn’t lose my mind but it appears I have actually been helping others by encouraging laughter and silliness. Personally, I think this supports the fact that I should goof off more often. Remember “healer…ain’t a saint.”
Now, to briefly explain the physical impact of laughter: endorphins are released during the exercise of laughter. Endorphins are defined in the dictionary as any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides that activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect. In turn these endorphins reduce pain sensations and stimulate positive emotion. This physical action assists with stress relief and positive effects on our mental health.
Psychology Today also supports the idea of the positive effects of laughter. In “Laughter: The Best Medicine” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200504/laughter-the-best-medicine) they state that laughter reduces blood sugar levels, improves job performance when creativity is important, and encourages a connection between one or more individuals.
Tel Aviv University conducted a study on children ages 2 to 17. It was concluded that the presence of a medical clown reduced the children’s anxiety and pain responses. It was also determined that the presence of the medical clowns also positively impacted or lowered their parents’ anxiety as well. http://www.fromthegrapevine.com/health/more-evidence- laughter-best- medicine
In 2005 Dr. Michael Miller, M.D. at Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland conducted a study providing evidence that physical effects of laughter positively affect blood vessel function. The act of laughing causes blood vessels to relax and then expand, thereby increasing blood flow. Dr. Miller identified evidence suggesting that hearty laughter did as much for the arteries as aerobic activity.
Obviously, we should not stop exercising and take up a couch surfing while watching the Three Stooges reruns every day, but taking the time to laugh or smile once in awhile does appear to have significant benefits.
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