Laugh Yourself Healthy

Studio shot of an elderly woman laughing against a white background


“I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can.” – Linda Ellerbee

We’ve all heard the old adage that laughter is the best medicine. And like much folk wisdom, there is more than a kernel of truth in it.

One of the major benefits of laughter is that it reduces stress – almost immediately. Have you ever been in an awkward situation that was broken because someone cracked a joke? Laughter releases a plethora of beneficial hormones (endorphins, serotonin, growth hormones) while reducing the level of stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline). In addition to these short-term benefits, laughter also has several long-term benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter may have many benefits, including:

Strengthening the immune system

Stress slows the immune system’s response to attacks. Therefore, laughing – which reduces stress – improves the immune system’s ability to ward off disease. Additionally, several studies have demonstrated that laughing may stimulate the production of immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies.

Stimulating many internal organs

A hearty laugh can stimulate your internal organs, giving them a gentle “massage.” It also increases oxygenation to the brain, which may help with memory and cognitive ability.

Improving your mood

Laughter reduces the level of “stress hormones” (cortisol, epinephrine, adrenaline) in the body, while stimulating “feel good” hormones like endorphins. Studies have shown that even a “fake” laughing can elevate your mood.

In addition to the benefits listed above, laughter is good for the heart. By increasing the flow of blood to the heart, blood pressure drops. Studies at the University of Maryland showed that blood flow increased when watching a comedic movie versus a stress-inducing film. The increase in blood flow after watching a comedy was equivalent to light exercise. Michael Miller, a cardiologist who led the study, said, “The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.”

Laughing is also good for the brain. A study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School showed that adding humor during classroom instruction led to higher test scores. In a study at Loma Linda University, test subjects who watched a funny video for 20 minutes scored better on short-term memory tests than the control group that sat quietly for 20 minutes. According to the researchers, the less stress you have, the better your memory.

Laughing may also extend your life. In a study of 53,000 seniors done by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, researchers discovered that study participants who had a sense of humor had a 20 percent lower mortality rate compared to those who had difficulty in finding the humor in life. As this and other studies show, laughter is an essential part of aging well.

So, now that you know that laughter is good for you, how do you go about laughing more? Here’s some tips to being more laughter into your life:

  • Make it a priority. Just like any health routine – like exercising or brushing your teeth – put laughing on your to-do list. You’ll most likely discover it’s a routine you enjoy.
  • It’s easier to laugh when you’re in a group of people. So call up some friends who lift your spirits and go to a comedy club.
  • Watch a funny movie or TV show. With all the options available today – Hulu, Netflix, On Demand – there’s always something funny at your fingertips.
  • Watch a funny video. Short on time? Type “funny videos” into your favorite search engine and choose from the plethora of options available.
  • Play with your pet. Animals allow us to “be in the moment” and their willingness to engage in playful activity is a good source of joyfulness.
  • Take a Laughter Yoga class. Have you tried out the hottest new fitness craze? Laughter yoga classes are popping up all over the country. Find a class laughter yoga class or laughter club near you.

If all else fails, just start laughing. Even if laughter is forced, it provides the same benefits. You may discover that’s enough to start the real thing. You may even make a few new friends.

Categories: Senior Health