Guffaws Are Good For You

The physical health benefits of laughter are no joke

When someone trots out the old saying about laughter being the best medicine, they are usually trying to help a person with a non-clinical case of “the blues.” Few believe that there is anything medicinal about a giggle or a chortle. But when researchers took a deeper look at the physiology of laughter, they found not only emotional benefits but physical ones as well.

“Laughter creates a unique pattern of brainwave activity,” says Jose M. Rendon, MD. “The initial effects are stimulation with increased respiratory rate ventilation and acceleration of the change of residual air. This is followed by a relaxation phase wherein muscle tension is eased and there is accelerated return of venous blood to the heart with reduced vascular stasis.”

In other words, a hearty laugh can improve blood vessel function and relieve tension. But the response to even the silliest joke is more complicated when it comes to the body’s immune system.

“Laughter is a modulator of the classical stress response,” Rendon says. “It reduces immunosuppression with temporary increased salivary immunoglobulin (an antibody) and reduction of serum IL-2, as well as serum levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine.”

Because laughter plays a role in the level of antibodies and immune cells versus the level of stress hormones, a regular dose of a tickled funny bone can improve disease resistance.

“Studies have shown that laughter can lead to a healthier and less stressed life,” Rendon says. So seek out the joy of a good laugh whenever you can, and if you find it, be sure to share.
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