Laughter, Good for Body, Mind & Society I:
7 Physical Benefits of Laughter
One of the things I like best is a good joke. There’s nothing better than a good laugh. You might think me crazy, but I even like groaning at bad jokes. Some days, though, it’s hard to read the paper without crying. Yesterday there was another shooting, this time in Jacksonville, FL. Nothing to laugh about there. But life goes on and our best ally just might be laughter. I need it. We all need it. Desperately.
I enjoy Reader’s Digest, but what I like best is the section titled, Laughter: The Best Medicine. I always go there first before reading any articles. One or two of the jokes will be hilarious, deserving both a smile and a laugh. Until recently, I never thought much about laughter as being medicine, but it is. Patrick J. Skerrett, a former Executive Editor of Harvard Health, summarized in a 2015 article on the health benefits of studies conducted at The University of Texas, Austin, and The University of Maryland Medical School. Both showed increased arterial blood flow in the participants who were exposed to a comedy or humorous video.
Several months ago, I attended a presentation on laughter therapy. The presenter, a certified laugh coach (yes, they exist) gave not only a very informative talk on laughter and its benefits but also led the audience in some laughing exercises. It was quite educational and demonstrated well laughter’s numerous benefits. Laughter is beneficial to everyone, not just seniors. We all need a good chuckle. Today I am embarking on a four-week series on the benefits of laughter, beginning with the physical benefits.
- Lowers Blood Pressure – High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can result from a number of factors including genetics, smoking, obesity, alcohol, physical inactivity, high salt intake and stress. Jordan Rosenfeld, a freelance writer for Mental Floss, referenced in April of 2018, a 2017 study from the Journal of Dental and MedicalResearch, where forty participants listened to 16 comedy shows and experienced a decrease in blood pressure. Similar studies have been conducted, each with the same result.
- Strengthens Core Trunk Muscles – Numerous studies have shown that a deep belly laugh engages the same muscle groups as doing exercises for the abs and core trunk muscles. Though the muscles are only at about a 50% activation, there is still a proven benefit to those muscles.
- Strengthens Facial Muscles– It takes at least 12 facial muscles to produce a smile. Laughter-induced smiling exercises those muscles and may help in keeping facial skin firmer longer.
- Good for the Heart – Dr.Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, cited a recent study which concluded that “laughing maintains a healthy endothelium and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.”
- Increases T-cell Activity– Studies conducted by Drs. Lee S. Burk and Stanley Tan, researchers at Loma Linda University’s Schools of Allied Health and Medicine, “have shown that laughter has a positive effect on modulating components of the immune system, including increased production of antibodies and activation of the body’s protective cells, including T-cells and especially Natural Killer cell’s killing activity of tumor cells.”
- Helps Control Diabetes – Numerous studies have shown that negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, and sorrow are known to be factors that elevate the blood glucose level.” Laughter, however, has been proven to lower one’s blood sugar, helping to combat and control diabetes.
- Improves Sleep Quality– Joseph Mercola summarizes numerous studies showing that laughter before bedtime can relieve stress, relax the body and produce a better quality of sleep.
I could continue on for pages listing more benefits of laughter, citing more articles and quoting experts, but the proof is there. Laughter is good for us. Sometimes it’s the only thing to do. The positive effects of laughter have been studied and documented for a number of years, spawning the science of gelotology, the study of laughter. One of the best-known experts of this field is Sebastien Gendry, who through his Laughter Wellness method helps people achieve better health through, you guessed it, laughter.
Seniors, arguably, have more to laugh about than the rest of us. After all, to paraphrase the State Farm ads, they’ve seen a lot more. The rest of us, though, still need to laugh. Not just for the fun of it, but for the health of it.