10 Health benefits of laughter
They say laughter is the best medicine, but is it really true? The team at Expertrain HQ wanted to find out, so we thought we'd look into the health benefits that laughter can provide. You know that laughing makes you feel good and can be a good cure for the blues, but what about the other benefits? Whether you're into Russell Howard's stand-up, a huge fan of Will Ferrell movies or prefer watching funny animal videos on YouTube, we all need more laughter in our lives, and these 10 health benefits give you plenty of excuses to laugh out loud. We're not responsible for any strange looks you may get on public transport...
#1. It reduces depression and anxiety
Laughter helps your whole body to relax and brings with it a host of benefits for your mental health. Not only does it bring joy into your life, it can also help to diminish feelings of anxiety and fear, relieve stress and enhance your resilience, so that huge problem you were worrying about a minute ago suddenly doesn't seem like such a big deal. Laughing will boost your mood and the positive, optimistic feeling you get will stay with you long after you've finished chuckling (1). You can't be angry, sad or anxious whilst you're laughing!
#2. It will boost your creativity
Did you know that laughter can boost your creativity and enhance your problem-solving abilities? It can also help to boost productivity and that's something we all need a little help with this February! Happy people relate to others better, so by laughing, you'll work better as part of a team. Your mood affects your creativity, and a brighter mood means you're more responsive and open to ideas, not to mention that you'll collaborate with others better - brainstorming session anyone (2)?
#3. It can help you sleep soundly
Insomnia affects around a third of people in the UK at some point in their lives, and if you're having trouble falling asleep or keep waking up in the middle of the night, you'll know how tiredness can impact your mood, energy levels and your health. Research shows that laughter can actually help relieve bouts of insomnia whilst improving the quality of your sleep. That's because laughing in the evening causes the body to produce more melatonin, according to a group of researchers from Japan (3).
Their study of 48 nursing women divided the group into two halves - half watched a DVD about the weather (yawn!) whilst the other half watched Charlie Chaplin's 'Modern Times'. Breast milk was collected at intervals throughout the evening and analysed for melatonin levels. The levels of melatonin were higher in the mothers who watched the Chaplin DVD. Melatonin is responsible for regulating our sleep cycle, and a lack of it can lead to insomnia.
#4. It can make your relationships stronger and healthier
Having a solid network of friends and family to support you reduces your risk of anxiety and depression and makes you feel happier. Laughter is a key tool in forming healthy relationships, and it can help to increase your sense of trust and strengthen your emotional connection with others, building closeness and a positive bond. Shared laughter keeps relationships fresh and can improve not only your romantic relationships but also relationships with friends, family and work colleagues.
#5. It stimulates the release of endorphins
We know that exercise is good for our fitness levels and that it also stimulates the release of endorphins which can boost our mood - but did you know that laughter can also stimulate the release of endorphins? Studies carried out by Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist from Oxford University, revealed that pain resistance increased in test subjects after a period of laughter. Pain resistance is often used an an indicator of endorphin levels. During the series of experiments, test subjects were asked to watch excerpts of different videos including comedy, neutral and positive but unfunny clips. They were then asked to wear a freezing wine sleeve on their forearm or a blood pressure cuff which was gradually tightened, to measure their resistance to pain (4). Whilst being more resistant to pain isn't necessarily a reason to stimulate your body to release endorphins, they can boost your mood and help you to feel happier.
#6. It improves your blood flow and circulation
Researchers from the University of Maryland found that laughter could improve the function of blood vessels. It can cause the endothelium, the tissue lining blood cells, to dilate or expand. The endothelium plays an important role in regulating blood flow and preventing the development of cardiovascular disease. Michael Miller M.D., director of preventative cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Centre and lead researcher, explains, "The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, so, given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease."
#7. It boosts your immune system
Last week we posted about ways you could boost your immune system - how about this one? Laughter can help reduce your stress levels, and when your body is stressed and overworked, you're more likely to be unwell. Researchers discovered that laughter can improve the activity of natural killer (NK) cells (5) - a researcher from the study in question explained, "As low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance and increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease, laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioural intervention."
Laughter also helps to promote relaxation and a great night's sleep, which can also be of benefit to your immune system.
#8. It lowers blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common problem which can, if left untreated, lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. Laughter can reduce your body's production of stress hormones such as cortisol, which makes your heart beat harder and faster and increases blood pressure. Laughter also gives your muscles a workout, which creates a sustained drop in blood pressure as blood vessels dilate and more oxygen enters your circulation (6). For a healthier heart, laugh for around 15 to 20 minutes a day - it doesn't matter what you laugh at!
#9. It improves your memory
Always forgetting where you put your car keys, or leaving your healthy lunch at home when you go to the office? Scientists from Loma Linda University in California discovered that laughter could improve memory and learning. Two groups of adults in their 60s and 70s participated in an experiment - one group watched a 20-minute comedy show whilst the other group watched a humourless TV show. After the viewing, researchers discovered that the comedy group had lower cortisol levels and their memory had improved by up to 43%. Dr. Gurinder S. Bains, the study's author, explains the findings, "Excess cortisol can damage the hippocampus - the part of the brain that consolidates short-term memory - and can eventually impair learning and memory." So if you want to stop forgetting what you just went upstairs for, try laughing more often!
#10. It makes you happy
It might be one of the most obvious benefits of laughter, but laughing out loud really does make you happier. Happy people attract other happy people, so the happier you are, the more surrounded by friends and loved ones you'll be. Just 10 to 15 minutes of laughter a day can significantly boost your mood, and when you're happier, you're more likely to make healthy choices when it comes to your diet and lifestyle.
READ THIS NEXT: Good reasons to give more hugs (and get more)