Don’t get me wrong, I love a genuine belly laugh as much as the next person. But, there’s a difference between indulging in what, let’s face it, is the body’s natural response to a stimulus that it finds amusing, and claiming that laughing has actual health benefits. To be honest, at my age (no, I’m not telling you!), I’m feeling concerned about the negative effects, namely laughter lines and crow’s feet!
And yet, I keep hearing about laughter in different ‘health’ contexts, from my friend Sue who’s training to be a medical clown, to a poster at my local supermarket advertising a class called ‘laughter yoga’. So, I decided to dig a little deeper and see how exactly laughter benefits the body.
Lower blood pressure
It’s hard to feel stressed when you’re laughing, and indeed a number of studies have shown that laughter can actually reduce blood pressure and with it the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Various studies have shown that laughter therapy can improve anxiety in patients with Parkinson’s disease, reduce anxiety and depression in nursing students, and improve optimism and self-esteem in menopausal women.
The science is simple – when you laugh, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, contributing to a toned tummy. If that’s not a reason to start giggling, I don’t know what is!
Having a good laugh gets your heart pumping resulting in improved blood flow, reduced artery inflammation and increased production of HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol).
Laughing activates T-cells – the specialized immune system cells that help us fight off sickness. So, if you feel a cold coming on, snuggle up under a blanket and watch a good comedy.
When we laugh, we release endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers. This can help ease even chronic pain, making us feel good all over. This isn’t brand new information by the way, back in the 14th century French surgeon Henri de Mondeville used humour to distract patients from the pain of surgery and to help them during recovery.
Even after the laughter has died down, the positive vibes remain. The good feeling we’re left with can change the way we see the world, help us find new sources of meaning and hope that make it easier to deal with life’s challenges.
This sounds like a huge claim, but research shows that people with a strong sense of humour tend to outlive those who don’t laugh as much. Perhaps it’s all the other benefits combined.
You know what? Watching my kids, I notice how much laughing they do throughout the day. It seems that, as adults, we’ve lost the knack of spontaneously bursting into a fit of giggles. With everything I’ve learned about the healing powers of laughter, I’d like to leave you with this challenge: find a few minutes every day to have a good old laugh. Watch a funny movie, TV show, or YouTube video, head out to a comedy club with a group of friends, even play with your pet. If it feels fake or contrived at first, that’s fine. Get into the habit of laughing, it’ll be so worth it!
Oh, and if you’re worried about the laughter lines and crow’s feet, I have one word for you: Sensilift. It’s an effective, non-invasive and safe device that treats fine lines – so you really can laugh to your heart’s content!