Smiling, joking, and giggling; some of our most joyful moments can be explained by how laughter affects our health. Some people have loud, contagious laughs, some snort, and some titter daintily and cover their mouths.
In the body, laughter is nothing more than a repeated contraction of the diaphragm, located below the lungs. You might laugh at a joke or a funny memory or watching someone fall down on a funny video. These are external stimuli that cause you to react with humor.
Doctors Explain How Laughing Can Change Your Health
Sometimes laughter is something we accidentally do. We have the ability to engage in both voluntary and involuntary laughter. Involuntary laughter is emotionally driven and can come even when we are feeling fear or anger. Involuntary laughter has also been called nervous laughter.
The act of laughing can change your mood quickly, which is one of the ways that doctors explain how laughing can change your health. Negative moods can be changed to positive ones, which are better for our health.
1. Reducing the impact of pain
Cancer Treatment Centers of America uses laughter therapy for their patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer. They explain the therapy and its effectiveness this way:
‘For years, the use of humor has been used in medicine. Surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. Later, in the 20th century, came the scientific study of the effect of humor on physical wellness. Many credit this to Norman Cousins. After years of prolonged pain from a serious illness, Cousins claims to have cured himself with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins. In his 1979 book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins describes how watching comedic movies helped him recover.’
Laugher is a good diversion because patients are unable to focus on their pain while they experience laughter therapy. The positive feelings that laughter gives to cancer patients can last for hours.
2. Heart and blood vessel health
Researchers studying the effects that laughter has on our health say that laughing has beneficial effects on blood pressure and vascular tone. They also say that endorphins are released by the pituitary gland when we laugh.
The endorphins activate opiate receptors that in turn produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps protect the heart cells and it is also responsible for opening the blood vessels.
The nitric oxide produced as a byproduct of laughing can change your health by reducing the accumulation of plaque in artery walls that can lead to heart attack and stroke. Researchers also found that laughing reduced vascular inflammation. The scientists say ‘Mirthful laughter may serve as a useful and important vehicle for the promotion of vascular health.’
3. Improves mental health
Depression, anxiety, and frustration are all negative emotions that have been helped by laughter. If you find yourself experiencing a negative emotion, try laughing off the situation or even laugh at your own reaction. The less you can hang on to negative emotions, the less mental and emotional stress you will have, which is another way that doctors explain how laughing can change your health.
4. Promotes social well-being
People rarely laugh when alone so it seems that in order to get some good laughs, you will need to seek the company of some good-humored friends. Laughter can improve your romantic relationships as well because it indices good feelings which we associate with the person we are laughing with.
The social nature of laughter means that we are connecting positively to others when we laugh. Meaningful connections with other people are important to complete our total health and happy well-being.
4. Improves immune health
As we have already mentioned, laughter helps with inflammation in the blood vessels. Inflammatory diseases are becoming more widely studied. It is possible that if laughter can be shown to reduce inflammation in blood vessels, it could help with other inflammatory diseases.
Laughing can change your health in other ways that improve your immune health. Research has shown that watching comedy movies can increase the blood levels of interferon-gamma in the male participants in the study.
Interferons are signaling proteins in the body and they are produced to fight off illness. Viruses in particular are susceptible to being killed by the immune-boosting power of interferons. They help the body to activate a host of immune system fighters like macrophages and natural killer cells and they assist in the production of antigens.
Researchers say ‘Interferons have become a line of pharmacotherapy in viral infections, systemic carcinomas, hepatitis B and C, in addition to the development of antiretroviral drugs.’ While a doctor can prescribe a medication to fight your illness, and you should see one if you have health concerns, laughing with friends is an alternative solution to change your health for the better.