Be it a chuckle, a giggle, a guffaw, or the good old belly laugh, a refreshing laughter therapy certainly gets your engines running. We would all agree that on certain days when our world feels sad and gloomy, a little dose of laughter is all it takes to revive our rundown spirits. Interestingly, it will appear that laughter does more than make us feel good, some researchers think it may have a hand in the seamless running of our immune systems, and it may also impact our overall health positively.
In light of this, the good old saying “laughter is the best medicine” may hold more meaning than we give it credit for. Why don’t we uncover some of these hidden treasures that laughter seems to hold in its good-humored grip!!!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE LAUGH?
No one needs an explicit description of what laughter is, because we have all experienced this core part of human existence. But have you ever wondered what goes on in our body when we erupt in bursts of laughter or chuckle at something funny? Here is a simple but clear picture of what happens within our bodies when we get a good laugh.
- We stretch the muscles in our face and body. In other words, we exercise our facial and trunk muscles.
- Our blood pressure and body pulse increase, thereby causing us to breathe faster and pump more oxygen into our body tissues (A very healthy move).
- Moreso, movement combined with laughter may be an excellent way to boost our heart rate. So the next time you have the urge to laugh, remember to move some muscle, maybe wave your arms or jump up and down.
These physiological effects of laughter are so significant that some experts believe that a burst of good mirthful laughter might be a milder form of exercise. A research conducted by Vanderbilt University Medical Centre reported that laughter could burn up to 50 calories within 10 to 15 minutes. Judging by the result of the study, you would have to laugh boisterously for hours on end to lose a single pound of weight. So burning calories by laughing may not be as practical and useful as exercise and diet.
LAUGHING FOR A BETTER IMMUNITY
It is not clear how laughter works to rev up the immune system, but some studies have shown that the mere act of laughing can motivate the human immune system to function correctly.
For example, a study reported that deep belly laughter could influence the release of more killer T cells that helps the body fight off infectious diseases and increases immune resistance to illnesses. Results from the study indicated that the laughing group had more T cells being released into their bloodstream from the spleen, compared to the non-laughing group. Conclusively, the quantity of T-cells in the body is a reliable marker of immune strength and response. However, the researchers could not prove a cause and effect relationship between laughter and the immune system.
In other notions, laughing may enhance immune strength by deactivating stress in the body. Laughter inspires positivity, which in turn activates the release of neuropeptides that help to ward off stress and combat the development of other serious illnesses.
The concluding review of four-part scientific research on laughter and health explored the effects of laughter and a sense of humor on the activity of natural killer (NK) cells. It reached the conclusion that laughter may contribute to a healthy immune function. Still, broader and more detailed research needs do be conducted before a general scientific consensus on laughter and immunity can be reached. The authors made this conclusion based on the conflicting results and poor quality of the studies reviewed in the paper.
LAUGHTER THERAPY: LAUGHING FOR A BETTER HEALTH
The amazing benefits of laughter may not just be restricted to the immune system as studies continue to unravel other positive effects that laughing may have on our physical and mental health. On this note, laughter can:
Enhance better mental health: The mental health benefits of laughter are endless, and this is why psychologists and mental health experts continue to utilize laughter therapy to manage stress in their clients. The concept of using humor to cope with stress is based on laughter’s ability to decrease stress hormones by reducing the serum level of cortisol, 3-4 dihydro-phenylacetic acid, growth hormone, and epinephrine. Laughter can also enhance dopamine and serotonin activity, which slackens in depressed people. It also secretes feel- good-hormones (endorphins), which helps to brighten the mood of both sad and healthy people.
Rocking back and forth with laughter can trigger a stress response and simultaneously reverse its effect. The reaction may lead to a normal fluctuation in heart rate and blood pressure, which can result in a relaxed and calm feeling.
Can Induce sleep and relieve pain: The endorphins released from laughing can also work to alleviate pain. Laughing can also trigger the body to produce it’s own pain killers. The author of Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousin, attributed part of his recovery from ankylosing spondylitis to laughter. According to him, he slept better and pain-free after treating himself to comedy series and skits.
Can protect your heart: One of the physiological responses to laughter is the contraction and relaxation of blood vessels, which aids in increasing the release of oxygen into the bloodstream and also increases blood flow. This cardiovascular action can protect you from potential cardiovascular diseases and other heart problems.
May increase appetite: one study found that repetitive laughter may work the same way as a repetitive moderate exercise to stimulate appetite hormones; leptin and ghrelin in the blood. In a comparison study, the researchers found that the study volunteers who were exposed to self-selected humorous videos had significant changes in their appetite hormones compared to volunteers who watched distressing videos. However, the researchers noted that the study did not corroborate a cause and effect relationship between laughing and appetite changes.
Still, it goes to show that laughter causes different modulations in the body. The body’s response to these changes is similar to its response to repetitive exercise. They also stated that the study might provide insight and potential options for healthcare providers who are dealing with patients that cannot engage in physical activity to increase their appetite.
Provide social benefits: Sharing jokes, giggles, smiles, and chuckles with friends and family or just a group of people can better enhance the positive effects of laughter on physical and mental health. The social benefits of laughter are an impressive list; It helps to improve communication, strengthens relationships, promotes romance and bonding.
Shared laughter helps us to heal mutual resentments and disagreements. It creates a wholesome atmosphere for genuine happiness. Engaging in playful communication can inspire a belly vibrating laugh whose effect can remain with us for a considerable amount of time. It also adds to the positive side of our memory reserve.
IS THERE ANY DISADVANTAGE?
Could there be any disadvantages of laughing or rather Is laughter terrible for you? The obvious response will be no, given the numerous benefits associated with that beautiful feel-good act. But then a set of researchers seem to think that laughter may not be purely beneficial and can have associated risks. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, the researchers highlighted the possible dangers of laughter as follows :
- Side-splitting laughter can cause protrusion of the abdominal hernia
- You can inhale germs or foreign pathogens when you absent-mindedly take a quick intake of breath while laughing.
- Intense laughter may trigger an asthma attack.
- It may also cause headaches and incontinence
The researchers, however, noted that laughter is rarely dangerous and poses minimal risk. The benefits outweigh the low risks. Also, their study didn’t investigate the adverse effects of associated laughter behaviors like chuckles and grins.
AND THE BOTTOM LINE IS……..
In today’s demanding and challenging world, it is hard to find humor and resign ourselves to the bare minimum of compressing our lips into a smile. This is especially difficult with everything that is going on now in the world. Battling a pandemic is by far the most challenging thing to do, and most of us are caught up in this dreary war in different ways. But holding on to humor may just help to improve our outlook on life and give us the strength to be optimistic for a better and disease-free world.
Given the numerous health benefits associated with laughter, it wouldn’t hurt to share jokes, watch a comedy or two, or simply look back at a happy memory that is sure to light up our face in a smile. Regardless of our current situation, we can always give stress and sadness the boot by merely laughing our brains out, good-humouredly, of course.
While It is true that researchers are yet to know the reason why laughter gives us such a boost and improves our health, the fact remains that we do not need an actual reason to laugh, especially when it is such an enjoyable and harmless act.