Physiological Effects of Laughter

It is an irrefutable fact that daily stress in most of our lives has mounted in recent years and most people find that their sense of humour abandons them rightly when they need it the most. Research has demonstrated that laughter therapy is not only fun to share a good laugh, but it actually improves your health. Laughter is defined as “a physical behaviour that happens in response to something which is perceived as humorous, amusing, or surprising. This behaviour involves most of the muscle groups and organ systems within the body. Laughter is a response to humour and one of the ways to communicate with others for interactions. 

Laugh therapy draws people together in such a way that initiate healthy physical and emotional changes in your body. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and guards you against the damaging effects of stress. While laughing, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood circulation increase and oxygen and nutrition transfers become active. Laughter makes endorphins secrete so that it controls pain, depression, anxiety, and mood.

Relaxation of the Whole Body:

A good, hearty laugh alleviates physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed. Participating in Laughter Yoga or Laughter Therapy results in supplying more blood to the muscles all over the body by dilating the blood vessels. A good laugh also contributes to the reduction in the levels of stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol.

Natural Pain Killer:

Laughter boosts the levels of endorphins, which are our body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins secreted as a result of laughter may help in reducing the intensity of pain in people who are suffering from arthritis, spondylitis and muscular spasms of the body. Many people have reported a reduced frequency of migraine headaches.

Reduce the Possibility of Respiratory Diseases:

It increases the lung capacity and oxygen levels in the blood. So, it becomes one of the best exercises for those suffering from asthma and bronchitis. Doctors highly recommend chest physiotherapy to remove mucous from the respiratory tracts. Patients who became part of a laughter club reported a notable decrease in the frequency of asthma attacks. Laughter therapy leads to a reduction in the frequency of chest infections by increasing the antibody level in the mucous membranes of the respiratory passages. Stress is another factor that can cause an asthma attack. By reducing stress, laughter can improve the prognosis of the disease.

Boost Immune System:

The immune system is mainly responsible for maintaining good health and preventing infections, allergies, and cancers. Negative emotions which include depression, anxiety or anger weaken the immune system and decrease its ability to fight against infections. Laughter helps in boosting the count of natural killer cells, a type of white cell. Research has demonstrated that laughter therapy increases antibodies (Immunoglobulin A), which is believed to have a protective capacity against some viruses, bacteria and also other microorganisms. It is pertinent to mention that members of laughter clubs have noticed a reduction in common colds, sore throats, and chest infections.

Cardiac Health:

Laughter is most effective and natural method to control blood pressure by reducing the release of stress-related hormones and promoting relaxation. Now experiments have demonstrated that a 10-minute laughter session may lead to a reduction of 10-20 mm in blood pressure.  However, laughter may not completely cure patients who take 2-3 tablets for blood pressure every day. But, it can certainly reduce the dosage, and if laugh therapy conducted on a regular basis, is then it may eliminate the need for medication in borderline high blood pressure patients. 

Laughter may be the best preventative medicine for those who are on the edge of developing heart disease, as it improves the blood circulation and oxygen supply to the heart muscles. Improvement in blood circulation results in reduced possibilities of clot formation.

Burns Calories:

Being an effective exercise, laughter results in the burning of calories in your body. Of course, it’s not a replacement for going to the gym on daily basis, but research has found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn about 40 calories—which could be enough to lose three or four pounds over the year.

Effective Exercise:

The most important benefit that everyone can derive from laughter is a sense of well-being. If you take a 15-minute laughter session in the morning, it will keep you alert and fresh throughout the day. The underlying reason for this is that you inhale more oxygen while laughing. Laughter is equivalent to any aerobic exercise, minus the sweating. According to some experts, a minute of laughter is equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine. Laughter stimulates heart and blood circulation and is suited for sedentary people and those who are confined to a bed or a wheelchair.

Helps Lower / Regulate Blood Sugar Levels:

A study by researchers in Japan led by Dr Takashi Hayashi have compared the differences of blood sugar levels in identical trials with healthy individuals and those with diabetes when experiencing humour and laughter. It was found that glucose levels were significantly lowered following a 40 minute comedy show. Several further studies have backed up these findings.

This glucose reducing effect is particularly noteworthy when comparing these studies with the evidence that negative emotion tends to increase blood glucose levels.

The science behind these findings are complex and varied but it is believed that one element is connected with the production of renin and angiotensin in the kidneys which plays an important role in complications experienced by people with diabetes. High blood sugar levels stimulate the production of renin but the various studies showed that the concentration of renin reduced by on average two thirds following three months of laughter stimulus. The drop in renin in 50% of these diabetic trial patients put their levels in the 'normal range' and the drop was maintained into the sixth month.

Workout your Abs:

One of the benefits of laughter is that it can help you tone your abs. When you are laughing, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, similar to when you intentionally perform a workout for your abs. Meanwhile, the muscles you are not using to laugh are getting an opportunity to relax.

Improves Sleep Quality:

There is a saying "A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything." However it is becoming apparent that, for those with sleep problems, that laughter can help with insomnia and sleep quality. The brain produces the hormone 'melatonin' before the onset of sleep. Melatonin helps regulate sleep cycles and, those who lack it tend to suffer with insomnia. Japanese researchers conducted a study to monitor melatonin levels in relation to laughter. The trial found that for those who watched a humorous film (compared with those in the trial who watched 87 minutes of weather forecasts) their melatonin levels were considerably higher and their sleep was deeper and more restful. 

Dr Norman Cousins, a celebrated political journalist and peace activist, whose battle with a serious degenerative health condition was the subject of a book and film 'Anatomy of an Illness', used laughter to treat and eventually cure his condition. The findings from his self-treatment became the motivation for the surge in study of laughter and its health effects by psychologists and doctors since the late 1970's. He found that 15 mins of laughter each day provided 2 hours of restful, pain-free sleep. 

Exercise for Facial Muscles:

Laugh therapy is an excellent exercise for facial muscles. It tones the muscles of the face and improves facial expressions. Laughter also increases blood supply to the face, which nourishes facial skin and makes it glow. Laughing can help to delay facial wrinkling, making a person appear younger.

Increases Appetite:

A study into the effects of laughter on appetite by Dr. Lee Berk at Loma Linda University in California, measured levels of leptin and ghrelin (hormones found in the body which both govern appetite) in two trial groups - one experiencing stressful stimulus and those experiencing mirth. The results remained the same for those in the 'stress' group but levels of leptin fell, whilst ghrelin levels rose in the 'laughter' group. This is similar to the effects after physical exercise which stimulates appetite.

In patients where physical exercise was not possible to impact on appetite levels (e.g. the elderly, disabled or those in chronic pain) or where better ways were needed to encourage eating in cases where individuals were not doing so (e.g., depression, eating disorders, or those receiving medication that suppressed their hunger, etc) it was clear that the chemical and hormonal changes in the body "may provide ... further potential options for patients who cannot use physical activity to normalise or enhance their appetite."

Conclusion:

It has become clear, after thorough research, that laughter therapy improves physical wellbeing (as well as the emotional and psychological wellness) of people through different mechanisms which take place in our bodies when we laugh. Nowadays, stress has become part and parcel in our lives and continuous exposure to it has inevitably led to a variety physical and psychological ailments. Laughter therapy will help build the resilience needed to confront many of life's stresses, boost your immunity, strengthen your organs, aid in your fight against illness and make you feel more happy and relaxed.

References:

  • Curejoy Editorial, Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Laughter Yoga, (Nov, 7 2017) retrieved from 

https://www.curejoy.com/content/health-benefits-of-laughter-yoga/

  • Song, Mi-Suk. Park, Kyung Min. Park, Heeok, The Effects of Laughter, (April 2013), retrieved from 

http://jkgn.org/upload/pdf/jkgn-15-75.pdf

  • Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Laughter is the Best Medicine, retrieved from

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

Laugh Therapy UK

76, Arden Way

Market Harborough

Leicestershire, LE16 7DD

United Kingdom

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