Checkmate, stress…

Stressful day? Have a good laugh—your body and your health will thank you. According to laughter research expert, Lee S. Berk, associate dean of research affairs at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions, laughter stimulates good stress, aka, “eustress,” and decreases bad stress—-“distress.” The result prompts a cascade of effects on our bodies, with laughter appearing to trigger the exact opposite effects of those created by stress. Because stress hormones suppress our bodies’ immune system, shutting those hormones down (as laughter does) acts as a natural immune system booster.

Berk has studied the effect of laughter on the body for more than 30 years. He has found that when laughter goes to work, the body stops producing the stress hormone, cortisol. When that happens, stress is reduced, blood pressure is lowered, oxygen intake increases, the immune system is enhanced, and the risk of having heart disease or a stroke is decreased. Those, in and of themselves are benefits, but that’s only the starting point. The body then shifts into producing endorphins (our bodies’ natural painkiller), serotonin (our bodies’ natural anti-depressant), and good neuropeptides (chemical communicators). Laughter also stimulates the production of dopamine, which provides calming, anti-anxiety benefits, and feelings of pleasure and reward.

Releasing our natural pain reliever helps manage our reaction to pain. Studies have found that people who are in pain or discomfort are bothered less by their pain when they’re laughing—-and Dr. Rita Beckford, MD, has found that laughter can help break the cycle of debilitating muscular contractions in some muscle disorders.

The benefits of laughter have been compared to those from a mild workout. Dr. Joseph Mercola, DO, reports that laughing raises both energy expenditure and heart rate by approximately 10-20%, while Maciej Buchowski from Vanderbilt University found that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.  

The reason behind our laughter is important, though—even topping the length of time that we laugh. Berk found that one benefit of mirthful laughter, rather than nervous or embarrassed laughter, promotes high-density cholesterol (HDH—-“good” cholesterol).

It’s Good for Your Brain, Too

Recall not as crisp as it once was? Watch a good sitcom—-and better yet, watch it with a friend. Dr. Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, has found that a person is 30 times more likely to laugh around other people than when he or she is alone.

Laughter increases the brain’s gamma wave frequency. Stated simply, brain waves are the synchronized electrical pulses that are produced by neurons communicating with each other. People’s brain waves change based on what they’re doing or how they’re feeling. Gamma waves are the brain’s highest frequency—-the fastest of the brain waves. Transferring information quietly and frequently, they are the type of brain waves observed in experienced meditators. Laughter changes the way our brain’s neurons communicate with each other by improving their synchronization, strengthening recall and memory. 

It’s not everything—-but it’s still good for you!

So, is the road to good health really as simple as just having a good belly laugh? Unfortunately, no.

Calling himself a “reserved optimist,” Provine recognizes the difficulties in studying laughter, among them—-identifying a specific cause and effect, and isolating laughter from other activities. After all, other factors can come into play when studying laughter, such as the role of other healthy habits like eating and sleeping well, and getting exercise. Further, the studies have often been small.

We also need to bear in mind that there are times when laughing isn’t the most appropriate response to a situation, or that a particular kind of humor might cause a response that you weren’t looking for. Sensitivity to others and the situation that you’re in is always important.

Okay, it’s not perfect—-but laughing does appear to have a range of health benefits, some of which are long term. And on a personal note, Mike and I have started making classic sitcoms our go-to before bed. Falling asleep to Wings, Frasier, and Friends has turned out to be a great way to nod off instead of dozing off to other shows that are more intense—-we sleep better.

So, find something to make you and a friend laugh—-you’ll feel better—-seriously!

Until next time,


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