What Is Laughter Medicine & How Does It Work?
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy laughing. It’s synonymous with joy and good times. People love to laugh! But did you know that laughing can actually improve your overall health in both the short and long term?
Laughter and people who laugh often experience an increase in good health in both their body and mind. But what is “laughter medicine”, exactly? Can you “hack” your body to laugh more for better health benefits?
Is the saying “Laughter is the best medicine” true?
This expression isn’t just something people tell others to cheer them up when they’re feeling low. It truly can aid in overall health. Research has shown that the way that laughter quells stress is one of the main reasons it acts as a health booster.
Stress is significantly detrimental to the body and the mind. When people are chronically stressed, a hormone known as cortisol increases in the body. Cortisol is designed to cope with stress by encouraging a quicker heart rate and a rise in blood pressure. This is known as the “fight or flight” response. From an evolutionary standpoint, cortisol was meant to keep humans alive by alerting them to dangers that could harm or kill them.
Those same threats to life aren’t the same in most of the modern world. The stress people feel, however, hasn’t gone away. It just pops up because of other things, like money troubles, emotional harm, or physical injuries.
When the body gets stressed out in modern times, for whatever reason, the biological response remains the same as that of our ancestors. And when cortisol is released into the bloodstream too often or remains there for too long, it can cause health issues such as weight gain, heart problems, sleep issues, and impairment in brain function.
Laughter saves the day in difficult times by reducing those stress-inducing hormones, reversing the stress response entirely. It also increases other feel-good hormones such as dopamine.
Do you get dopamine from laughing?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are substances found at the end of nerves designed to transfer signals to other nerves. They are often called chemical messengers because they aid in nerve communication throughout the body and brain.
Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that focuses on pleasure. However, it can also play a role in the following:
- Learning and attention span
- Organ function
- Feelings of pain
Research has found that dopamine is released from the brain when a person laughs, creating an overall sense of joy. Because dopamine plays a role in so many bodily and mental functions, when it is released in high amounts, it can cause an improvement in those areas. Since laughter reduces stress at the same time, it’s a two-for-one type of deal!
How does laughter benefit your short-term health?
Laughter has many short-term health benefits because of its stress reduction and dopamine-increasing action. For one, laughter can stimulate the organs by encouraging more oxygen intake. The heart, lungs, muscles, and brain all need oxygen to function correctly, and when you take in more air, you stimulate those organs to work even harder and better.
Laughter can also act like a warm hot chocolate on a cold and blistery day in the sense that, because of the way it ramps up and then deactivates your stress response in a short time, it gives you much-needed feelings of total relaxation. When the body is relaxed, it generally performs better.
Blood circulation is also positively affected by laughter. When the blood goes through the veins throughout the body, it can lessen feelings of tension within the muscles and reduce symptoms you may experience during times of stress, such as muscle aches, tension headaches, and stomach issues. Cardiovascular health is also improved because of better circulation brought on by the release of endorphins – i.e. “happy” chemicals.
How does laughter benefit your long-term health?
The short-term effects mentioned above are based on small bouts of laughter, but what about if you laugh loudly and often all throughout your life?! People who laugh regularly can reap many long-term health rewards. For example, laughter can actually improve how well the immune system functions. The immune system is vital to overall health because it protects against harmful bacteria, pathogens, and other foreign invaders. It also works round the clock to keep you safe from other possible chronic diseases such as cancer.
Research has shown that positive thoughts, and laughter especially, improve the function of the immune system because of their effect on cells known as natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells kill tumor cells and other cells infected with a virus or other pathogen. If they aren’t working as they should, you are more vulnerable to disease and severe infection. One study looked at laughter and how it can affect the immune system, specifically NK cells, and found that it improves their activity within the body.
Laughter can also protect cardiovascular health in the long term because it affects oxygen intake, as mentioned above. When the body consistently gets enough oxygen-rich air, a person is likely to decrease their risk of cardiovascular events that revolve around limited oxygen, such as a stroke.
Chronic pain can also be positively affected by regular laughter because when a person laughs, natural chemicals that act as painkillers in the body are released. In turn, this leads to a better pain response and a reduction in pain – simply by experiencing more joy in life.
With all of this in mind, there has never been a better excuse to find something that brings you the joy of laughter!