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May 06, 2021

Laughter: A healthy behavior that's actually fun

Everyone enjoys a good a joke — and so does your body

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Laughter Health Benefits Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

You can't laugh yourself into great shape — but the behavior provides many benefits for your body.

Had a good laugh lately? If you have, consider it an installment toward a healthy lifestyle.

Yes, laughter is among your behaviors with tangible health benefits. The science suggests that laughter can contribute to your physiological and psychological well-being. Talk about a low-cost, painless way to enrich yourself.

Now before you start thinking that you can laugh yourself into shape, keep in mind that laughter is but one of the behaviors at the intersection of physical and social strategies that can support the more challenging tasks of diet and exercise.

Still, laughter, like your relationships and sleep habits, can play a strong complementary role. If you are looking for anything that can help you fight the aging process, increase happiness and make you feel good, laughter deserves a place on your checklist of healthy practices.

The physiological benefits

According to the American Physiological Society, William Fry, a psychology professor at Stanford University, was a pioneering investigator who pursued laughter and healing as a field of study and created the term gelotology, the study of laughter. His landmark studies on the physiological processes that occur during laughter provided evidence and mechanistic insights for the positive physiological impact of humor, which paved the path for future investigation. It is now well documented and generally accepted that human emotions interact with the mind and body in complex and powerful ways that impact your health.

As reported by the University of Oregon, Rod A. Martin, of the University of Western Ontario, found that psychological changes in the body may result from vigorous laughter resulting in relaxed muscles, improved respiration, enhanced circulation, increased production of endorphins and decreased production of stress-related hormones.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a good laugh has great short-term effects that actually induce physical changes in your body, including the stimulation of many organs, activation and relief of your stress response, and the soothing of tension. Over the long term, Mayo suggests that laughter can improve your immune system, relieve pain, increase personal satisfaction and improve your mood.

Laughter is also good for your heart. According to Harvard Medical School, laughter also appears to go beyond the belly and the brain — arteries respond to it in healthy ways that could improve blood flow and long-term health. They highlighted a University of Texas study that measured artery function and flexibility. In the study, the measures improved immediately and stayed that way for almost 24 hours in the volunteers who watched a comedy.

Research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine acknowledged the psychological benefits of laughter and more current research that show that laughter may also have serious psychological benefits. The Journal concluded its findings by suggesting that although there are limitations to the current medical literature on laughter, enough evidence indicates that laughter may be employed as part of our basic apparatus to help prevent diseases, reduce costs and ensure a healthier population.

Laughter and relationships

One of the most interesting aspects of laughter is the connection between laughter and relationships — an established motivator for healthy behavior. While laughter has its own direct positive impact on your health, it also has the ability to strengthen relationships when the laughter is shared within a social context. The strengthening of a personal relationship can help support healthy behavior. Strong emotional relationships, such as with a spouse or significant other, are a primary source of inspiration for the maintenance of positive behaviors.

According to the Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research, studies have shown that conversation spent laughing simultaneously with the romantic partner was uniquely positively associated with global evaluations of relationship quality, closeness and social support.

Finding laughter

If the science has convinced you of the benefits of a good laugh, then the only question is where can you find laughter on a consistent basis? For help, consider the advice of Debbie Kerr, a cancer survivor and self-proclaimed purveyor of wit and laughter. Kerr recommends a number of places to look for a good laugh. These include: comedians, pictures and videos on social media, friends and family, co-workers and laughing at yourself.

Among the recommendations for keeping humor in your life from Johns Hopkins are reading funny books, watching funny movies and television, collecting funny jokes, sending funny cards and emails, and looking for humor in ordinary routines and unexpected mix-ups in your life. No matter the origin, it’s about the comfort to let loose and genuinely enjoy the moment.

For me, laughs seem to emanate principally from everyday life; situations at home, the office and, of course, my grandson. What drives some of my biggest laughs are family conversations, typically at holiday meals and special occasions, where my oldest son — the movie buff — and me pepper our dialogue with quotes from our favorite movies. I don’t know why, but the insertion of some classic movie lines into our dialogue seems to set us into a laughing frenzy that has our respective spouses shaking their heads wondering what’s so funny as my son and I are doubled-over in laughter. A classic father and son moment. 

A wide variety

When you think about it, there is a wide variety of human responses that quality as laughter, from the hearty guffaw or roar, to the more subdued snicker or chuckle. Laughter Online University actually cites 15 ways to describe laughter, and a number of laughter synonyms that we would all recognize: split your sides, burst out and crack up. In short, a deep portfolio of ways to inject humor into your life.

No matter when you may find the opportunity to laugh, or the kind of laughter you may employ, the evidence is clear, laughter is good for you. While it doesn’t alleviate the need to watch your diet and exercise, it represents a no-cost, fun way to bring a bit of happiness into your life, and contribute to your health and well-being. Go ahead. Have a good laugh. 

Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

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