I love to laugh. In fact, I crack myself up (a habit that my friends and family may not enjoy as much as I do). I think most of us feel it is fun to laugh. But did you know that laughing can improve your health? Laughing can help your brain, your heart, your mental health, and more. Laughter might really be the best medicine.
Whether you’re laughing out loud at a comedy show, or quietly giggling while reading a funny book, laughing does you good. In fact, research shows that laughter has important psychological and physical benefits. Simply put, laughter is a fun, easy, cheap, and efficient way to improve your health.
Of course, a good sense of humor and a hearty laugh can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting regarding how much laughter can improve your health.
Laughing can improve your health!
Not only does laughing make you feel good, but it triggers healthy physical and emotional changes in your body. Laughing increases the brain’s production of endorphins – the natural way your body relieves pain, reduces stress and boosts mood. And laughing increases your intake of oxygen-rich air and blood flow and circulation, which can improve brain health.
It’s a fast, dependable way to bring your mind and body back into balance. How can laughter improve your physical and emotional health? Read on to learn more.
Laughing can make you feel better physically.
Laughing can improve your health in the short-term and over time. Below find some ways laughing can improve your physical health.
Laughter boosts the immune system.
Laughing decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thereby improving your resistance to disease.
Interestingly, in one small study, the blood levels of natural killer cells increased significantly among people who watched a 75-minute funny film. And in another small study, cancer patients who watched a funny video had an increased immune function response and reduced reports of stress. Interestingly, if a person watched the video but did not laugh, their natural killer cell activity actually decreased.
Laughter can improve brain health.
Laughing increases your intake of oxygen-rich air and improves your circulation, which means more oxygen-rich blood flows to your brain, potentially improving brain health. Importantly, healthy blood flow to the brain can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, and depression. Moreover, keeping your blood vessels healthy can reduce your risk of stroke.
Interestingly, in one study of seniors 65+ years old, a greater variety of occasions for laughter was associated with a lower risk of dementia among women, with a less pronounced improvement for men. And laughing during conversations with friends, while communicating with children or grandchildren, and while listening to the radio were primarily associated with a decreased risk. Simply put, increasing the types of situations in which you laugh could decrease your risk of dementia.
Laughter can relieve pain.
Laughing can ease pain by increasing the brain’s production of endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals that relieve pain and reduce stress.
Interestingly, Researchers used PET scans to study participants’ brains after they watched laughter-inducing comedy clips with close friends for 30 minutes. The study found social laughter increased pleasurable sensations and triggered a natural release of opioid in the brain, which can relieve pain sensations. Additionally, the researchers found that participants had elevated pain thresholds after watching laughter-inducing comedy.
Similarly, another study found that people who watched a humorous film had a higher level of pain tolerance.
Laughter reduces physical symptoms of stress.
Importantly, laughter protects you from the damaging effects of stress. A good, strong laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. This prolonged period of muscle relaxation can ease some of your physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter protects the heart.
A good laugh can help protect your heart for up to 24 hours after you laughed. Here are some of the ways laughing helps your heart:
Laughter decreases stress hormones.
Stress constricts your blood vessels and decreases your circulation. Chronic stress can lead to serious cardiac issues such as heart disease, blood clots and heart attack. Fortunately, laughing improves your circulation and helps relax your muscles, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress and reduce your risk of heart issues. It is also a great way to reduce feelings of anger, a common stress trigger.
Laughter reduces your risk of heart disease.
Laughing leaves a lasting and positive effect on your blood pressure and relaxes your body, which can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Laughter reduces artery inflammation.
A good, robust laugh causes the inner lining of your blood vessels to dilate by releasing nitric oxide, a chemical compound that helps reduce inflammation and prevent plaque from forming in your arteries. Shockingly, laughing might be just as effective at reducing inflammation as aerobic exercise or taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Laughter increases “good” cholesterol levels.
Laughing can increase your levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind). This good cholesterol flows through your blood and pushes the LDL (the bad cholesterol that can cause heart disease) out of your arteries, back to the liver where it is eliminated.
Laughter improves blood vessel function.
Laughter may encourage your endothelium (the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels) to expand and increase blood flow. A healthy endothelium can help prevent atherosclerosis (a hardening of the blood vessels) and cardiovascular disease.
Laughter increases blood flow.
Laughing causes your blood vessels to expand, which increases blood flow throughout your body. Importantly, a healthy blood flow provides your heart, muscles, arms, and legs with an optimal flow of oxygen-rich blood, which helps reduce your risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter can reduce inflammation.
Growing evidence shows a close link between inflammation and many chronic health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and chronic obstructive lung disease. Fortunately, laughter may reduce inflammation.
Interestingly, one study found that blood levels of key inflammatory compounds dropped considerably after rheumatoid arthritis patients watched a funny film.
Laughter can ease breathing issues for COPD patients.
Laughter is thought to trigger changes in breathing patterns that could help patients with chronic lung disease. In one study, doctors found that laughter reduced hyperinflation (air trapped in the lungs) in patients with severe COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Laughter may even help you live longer.
Interestingly, a 15-year study in Norway found that for women, a strong ability to “get the joke” was associated with a 48% reduction in the risk of death from all causes, a 73% reduction in the risk of death from heart disease, and an 83% lower risk of death from infection.
For men, those with a strong ability to “get the joke” had a 74% reduction in the risk of death from infection, with no impact on risk of other causes of death.
Why would a sense of humor help you live longer? The study’s authors surmise that your ability to “get the joke” may protect you from conflict in social interactions and reduce your overall stress. And reducing your stress levels can prevent an increase in stress hormones. This is important because chronically elevated stress hormones can suppress your immune system, making it harder to fight off illnesses.
Laughing can make you feel better emotionally.
We all know laughter makes us feel good. And the positive feelings can last even after you stop laughing. Humor helps you have a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. Even in very difficult times, a laugh – or just a smile – can help you feel better.
How can laughter help even during your worst days? The endorphins released while you laugh can help you feel calm and happy, while improving your mood and reducing your anxiety.
Below you will find a few ways laughing can improve your emotional health.
Laughter can improve your mood.
Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and can make you feel happier. The release of endorphins makes it hard to feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
Laughing can make you feel good by activating neural pathways in your brain that are responsible for emotions like joy, mirth, and happiness. For instance, one study found that laughter therapy activated the neurotransmitter serotonin, similar to what antidepressants do.
Interestingly, in one study, researchers found that people who could laugh at themselves had more genial personalities and positive outlooks.
Laughter helps you feel relaxed.
A hearty laugh excites and then cools down your stress response. And it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. When these changes occur, you feel relaxed.
Laughter can relieve stress.
And, as discussed above, laughing increases the production of endorphins, which can relieve your stress. Additionally, endorphins can promote an overall sense of well-being.
Laughter makes it easier to deal with angry feelings.
Laughing with others is a great way to diffuse anger and conflict. Looking at the funny side of situations can put problems into perspective and help you move forward without holding onto bitterness or resentment.
Laughter can increase personal satisfaction.
Laughter can make it easier to deal with difficult life situations. And it can help you connect with other people and improve your self-esteem.
Laughing can help caregivers cope.
If you are a family caregiver, you know the stress you feel. The role is physically and emotionally challenging. Looking for moments of humor, and laughing as much as you can, can help you cope with the demands of caregiving.
For instance, laughter can diffuse a tense situation and help you and your loved one maintain a positive outlook. And laughing with your loved one can deepen connections and provide benefits to both of you. You can add humor into your lives by following the suggestions below.
How to add laughter to your life.
It’s clear that laughing easily and frequently can improve your health – both physically and emotionally. Moreover, it can help you find greater happiness—and even add years to your life. But how can you laugh more?
Firstly, don’t worry if you’re not funny or think you don’t have a sense of humor. You don’t have to be a stand-up comic to laugh. Humor can be learned. You can find laughter in your everyday life in many ways. But forget the smile and force yourself to laugh out loud – even if it makes you feel ridiculous.
Importantly, you must make laughter a priority. We all have busy lives and it’s easy for the hours to fly by. So, reserve 15 minutes a day for laughing. Set an alarm and make it happen.
Hopefully it goes without saying – don’t laugh at the expense of others. Use your best judgment to discern the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone. And don’t tell hurtful jokes.
Consider these suggestions to increase how much you laugh:
Laugh at yourself.
When you do something silly, like spill your coffee or go to an appointment on the wrong day, have a little laugh at yourself. Laughing at yourself makes it easier to put mistakes in perspective, cope with difficult times, and move past misfortunes.
Don’t forget to act silly on purpose! It’s a great way to force yourself to laugh – either alone or with friends and family. Do a silly dance, put on a crazy hat, talk in a funny accent – the sky’s the limit!
And don’t shy away from sharing your embarrassing moments with your friends and family. It’s a sure fire way to have a good laugh.
Seek out funny viewing experiences.
Watch funny shows or movies on TV. If you usually watch crime shows, dramas, news, or sports, try to watch something funny. And when possible, go to a comedy club in person, or see a funny movie in a theater where laughing is contagious.
And instead of scrolling through depressing videos and articles online, dedicate a part of each day to watch funny videos that make you laugh. Perhaps you love silly panda bear videos? Videos of babies giggling? Kittens squeezing themselves into small spaces? Websites full of jokes? Find what makes you laugh and search for it often.
You can make it easier to find funny things by following and liking pages on social media that make you laugh – you’ll receive more funny posts in your feeds. You can also download apps that encourage laughter – search your app store for “laughable” or “laughter” to find ones that seem appealing to you.
Find funny things to read and listen to.
Whether it’s a biography written by a famous comedian, a funny novel, a joke book, or a comic strip, make time to read funny things that make you laugh out loud.
Don’t love reading? Look for amusing podcasts – try comedians you love to get you started.
Spend time with friends and family doing fun activities.
Certainly, it’s great to spend time with friends and family who make you laugh. Playing games with others is a fabulous way to bring on the laughs (and personally my favorite thing to do). Choose one of the many games that encourage laughter. If you don’t love playing games, enjoy other activities with others that make you laugh, such as bowling, karaoke, amusement parks, mini golf, etc.
And don’t sit around waiting for invitations, take the lead and invite people to your home or organize fun outings and gatherings.
Play with children.
Whether they are your children, grandchildren, or other children you know, playing with kids can make you laugh. Consider games and activities that evoke laughter, such as pin-the-tail on the donkey, hide and seek, dressing up in silly costumes, making animal noises, singing, and more.
Fight off loneliness.
If you’re not laughing much because you’re lonely, consider getting a pet. A cat or dog are great company and often act in amusing ways that can make you laugh out loud.
Participate in a yoga laughter class.
Laughter yoga combines yoga breathing techniques with group laughing. Although participants force themselves to laugh at first, it can soon turn into spontaneous laughter. Find a group by searching the database at Laughter Yoga International, or search online for “yoga laughter” and the name of your town. And some laughter yoga providers have online sessions, including Let’s Laugh Today and Celeste Greene Laughs. Please note – I have no personal experience with either of these organizations).
Participate in humor therapy or workshops.
Humor therapy helps you find ways to make yourself (or others) smile and laugh more. Many hospitals and health centers offer humor therapy to patients, which can include everything from watching movies to reading books to visits from clowns.
However, if you are not in the hospital, you can still reap the benefits of humor therapy or humor workshops, either online or in person. You can search online for virtual or in-person humor workshops. For instance, Just Humor Me provides both online and in-person seminars and events (note – I do not have any personal experience with their services).
Participate in clown therapy sessions.
If you or a loved one is in the hospital, ask if the hospital has a clown therapy program. Just like it sounds, trained clowns visit with patients to bring them joy and make them laugh.
Interestingly, a study found that when highly-trained therapy clowns interacted with dementia patients for 12 weeks, there was a significant reduction in dementia symptoms. Importantly, the research found that clown therapy was just as effective as medication in bringing down aggression levels in seniors with dementia. Plus some patients who were considered non-verbal began reacting or communicating with the clowns in small but significant ways.
Display a few funny items.
Find comic strips, photos, or other images that make you chuckle and hang a few around your home and office. Ideas include on your fridge, a bulletin board, your bathroom mirror, or bedroom wall. If you prefer, you can collect them in an album which you can look through periodically.
Certainly, laughter can improve your health. I encourage you to seek out more laughter every day. But did you know that art and music can also improve your health? Read these blog posts to learn more: