Being able to have a laugh is an important part of your emotional well-being.
Whether it’s a boisterous laugh that comes from the belly or a quiet laugh interspersed with snorting, when we laugh we instantly feel good and we want to do it again. What we don’t think about is what is happening to our minds and bodies as we giggle, chuckle or roar out in laughter when something funny happens.
What is Laughter?
The definition of laughter is that it is a physiological response to humor. When we laugh, we are using at least 15 facial muscles to contort our face and make a sound. In addition, our larynx closes halfway so that we receive irregular intake of oxygen forcing us to gasp. If you ever feel like you run out of breath when you’ve had a laugh attack, that is why.
Laughter, unlike most other physiological experiences, is literally contagious. In human brains there are certain neural pathways that generate laughter. Therefore, when we see someone laugh, these neural pathways fire causing us to start laughing ourselves. It creates a feedback loop where your own laughter makes you continue to laugh and may also trigger others around you to laugh!
“Laughter is the best medicine” is a commonly used phrase for a reason. Research has shown that laughing has incredibly positive and long-lasting effects on our bodies and minds, which can make it one of the most affordable and fun ways to stay healthy!
The Mind and Body Benefits of Laughing
Our bodies are built to withstand short infrequent bursts of stress. However, when stress persists for an extended period of time, numerous organs begin to experience fatigue and we tend to see signs of long-term damage. During times of chronic stress, cortisol and adrenaline tend to surge and build up to unhealthy and unsafe levels in our body that can harm the adrenal glands. Laughter has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels even if the laughter occurs prior to the resolution of the stress.
In fact, repair attempts during marital strife function in this exact manner. By using humor prior to or during the source of stress, both partners can feel calmer preventing them from escalating the argument and developing unhealthy relationship patterns.
By reducing stress and also by triggering other reactions in the body, laughter strengthens the immune system. Specifically, research has found that laughter increases the number of antibodies in the mucous membranes of our nose and respiratory tract. These helps build up the body’s defenses and protect against colds, sore throats, upper respiratory tract infections and other diseases.
The reason laughing makes us feel so good is that it releases endorphins, our body’s natural pain killers. Research has identified a strong connection between laughter and significantly reducing pain intensity for conditions such as arthritis, migraines and even cancer. Similarly, some research has shown that repeated laughter over an extended period of time can increase lung capacity and increase blood oxygen levels. This can help increase a sense of relaxation as well as help people living with asthma.
Further studies have shown a connection between laughter and cardiac health, concluding that laughter can help protect against a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack. This might be because laughter reduces stress and stress creates significant long-term impairments in the cardiovascular system. In addition, laughter stimulates blood circulation and increase muscle relaxation which are important protective factors against cardiac events. Since South Asians are at high risk for cardiovascular disease, increasing laughter on a daily basis in addition to making proper diet and exercise changes may be a very positive lifestyle change to make.
In addition, laughter has a significant impact on protecting against depression. Certain studies have concluded that widows and widowers who are able to use humor as part of their coping strategy are less likely to develop depression after a loss. Similarly, seniors who are depressed or have suicidal thoughts are less likely to commit suicide and more likely to overcome depression if they are able to laugh on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, as we age, laughing becomes something we do less and less. Research from Stanford concluded that children laugh up to 300 times a day but on average adults only do so 17 times per day. Our ability to laugh or find things funny does not inherently change as we get older, suggesting that laughter drops on our list of priorities despite its many significant and long-lasting effects on our body and mind.
If you are looking for ways to improve your life, try adding more laughter to your day. Watch funny videos or spend more time with people who make you laugh and notice how quickly you start to feel better both physically and emotionally.
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