Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? Only if you aim it well enough!
When was the last time you had a great big belly laugh? Not a polite giggle, or a cursory ‘haha’, a real guffaw. A rumbling chortle that made you double over, tears spring to your eyes, and your sides ache from exertion. If you can’t remember, maybe it’s time to watch some YouTube videos of your favourite sitcom’s blooper reel, or puppies being adorable. Recent studies have shown that regular, deep laughter has many positive health benefits, and can even add years to your life!
It seems unlikely but it’s true!
A Norwegian study conducted over a period of 15 years and involving over 10,000 people found that those with a strong sense of humour outlived those who didn’t laugh as much.
I once heard a joke about amnesia, but I forgot how it goes.
Recently, cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore conducted a study of 300 people. Half of the participants had suffered a heart attack or undergone bypass surgery. The other half had no history of heart disease. All participants were given a series of multiple choice and true or false questions related to humour and anger in real-life situations. Results showed that the group with heart disease responded with less humour and were 40% less likely to laugh in everyday situations, even positive ones, compared to the group without heart disease. Those with heart disease also displayed more anger in their responses.
It’s a small sample size, sure, but one that shows that laughter can quite possibly help to prevent heart disease. The endothelium (the protective barrier lining blood vessels) regulates blood flow, helps blood to clot, and helps the body respond to infection. Ten-to-fifteen minutes of laughing each day improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow. It also strengthens the immune system by increasing infection-fighting antibodies and decreasing stress hormones. A strengthened immune system improves the body’s resistance to disease and infection. Laughing can increase your heart rate by 10-20% (a good laugh can even burn up to 40 calories!)
I told the doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.
Mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium and can lead to a build-up of fat and cholesterol, which can possibly lead to heart attack. Laughing is a great way to relieve mental stress and thus is important for maintaining a healthy endothelium. A good laugh is the quickest way to bring your body and mind into balance. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins make you feel great and can even reduce pain symptoms in the short-term. The best thing is how good you feel remains well after the laughter subsides, and it’s not actually possible to feel sad, anxious or angry while genuinely laughing. Your mood will improve, you’ll feel happier, your energy & focus will increase, and your emotional health will be enriched.
A man speaks frantically into the phone, “My wife is pregnant, and her contractions are only two minutes apart!”
“Is this her first child?” the doctor queries.
“No, you idiot!” the man shouts. “This is her husband!”
Studies have also shown that we laugh much less as adults than as children. We are more likely to laugh when we are with others than when we are alone. Most laughter comes organically from spending time with friends and family, rather than specific jokes.
Laughter can strengthen relationships. It is a social activity and encourages you to connect and engage with others. It can also promote bonding and encourage teamwork through problem solving and creativity. It diffuses conflict and causes you to release anger, let go of resentment, and forgive.
Patient: It’s been one month since my last visit and I still feel miserable. Doctor: Did you follow the instructions on the medicine I gave you?
Patient: I sure did – the bottle said ‘keep tightly closed.’
A good belly laugh can relax your muscles for up to 45 minutes. What a great stress reliever! Another positive – your body cannot tell the difference between genuine laughter, caused by humour, and false laughter, by self-initiation. More good news – false laughter can often cause real laughter. Laughter is contagious, even if it’s your own. When your brain hears laughter, it readies you to join in. That is why many television programs use laugh tracks.
Other health benefits can include:
- Improved short-term memory
- Balanced blood pressure
- Improved sleep
- Enhanced oxygen intake
- Improved indigestion
What are you waiting for? Move towards laughter. Smile, have an active sense of humour, release your inhibitions, and enjoy a great big belly laugh at least once a day. It is fun, it’s free, and it’s one of the easiest things you’ll ever do.
As E.E. Cummings said, the most wasted of days is one without laughter.