Did you know…that laughter (even “fake” laughter or just thinking about laughter!) lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, boosts the immune system—and has even been useful in integrative cancer treatment?
Everyone loves to laugh, but few people know that according to research, laughter is truly “the best medicine.” Laughing confers such outstanding benefits for physical and mental well being that it’s even being applied towards the treatment of serious health conditions such as cancer.
Just some of the functions of laughter therapy includes its ability to:
- Boost the immune system and circulatory system
- Enhance oxygen intake
- Stimulate the heart and lungs
- Relax muscles throughout the body
- Trigger the release of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers)
- Ease digestion/soothe stomach aches
- Relieve pain
- Balance blood pressure
- Improve mental functions (i.e., alertness, memory, creativity)
Laughter Increases Natural Killer Cells in Cancer Patients
Natural killer cells are the body’s natural defense against invasive tumors. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Berk of Loma Linda University in California found that laughter actually increases the number of natural killer cells in cancer patients.
The Science of Laughter and Hopefulness
Many of laughter therapy’s positive effects are the result of the hormones laughter stimulates, called catecholamines. Catecholamines trigger the release of endorphins the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals that reduce pain and stimulate elation.
According to a research team at Texas A&M University, each laugh relieves stress…reduces anxiety…lifts energy…and even cultivates hope. In fact, the team found that laughter therapy could lead to significant increases in hopefulness.
David H. Rosen, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told Science Daily that humor specifically fosters hope by blocking negative thoughts with positive ones. The positive emotions generated through humor can enhance our belief in overcoming obstacles, an important psychological aspect of hope.
This is just one reason laughter therapy is becoming an important treatment element in many integrative cancer treatment centers.
Laughter Can Be as Healthy as Exercise
Recent research shows that laughter can be as good for your body as a jog around the park. According to an article in The Telegraph, “Doctors describe ‘mirthful laughter’ as the equivalent of ‘internal jogging’ because it can lower blood pressure, stress, and boost the immune system much like moderate exercise.”
Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University in California led the study. “The body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise,” he remarked.
For the study, 14 volunteers watched either…
1. A stressful 20 minute clip of the war film Saving Private Ryan
2. An extract from a comedy or stand-up routine
Afterward, blood samples showed a drop in stress hormones and an increase in immune T cells for those who watched the comedy. Their blood pressure readings dropped, too.
Laughter Therapy Can Dramatically Boost Heart Health
In 1997, Dr. Berk studied laughter in relation to diabetic heart patients. One group watched a television comedy every day for a year, while a control group did not.
Results at one year were astonishing:
- The comedy-viewing group required less blood-pressure medication
- Only 8% of the comedy viewers had another heart attack, compared with 42% of those in the control group
Results from this research and other similar studies suggest that “laughercise” could be a great way to reduce heart disease and diabetes and regulate the body’s vital functions—especially for those who find physical activity difficult or impossible.
Fake Laughing and Even Just Thinking About Laughing Is Good For You!
If you don’t feel like laughing, don’t fret. Many studies have shown that the benefits of laughter are no less powerful if you force yourself to laugh than they are if you laugh spontaneously.
Furthermore, some of Dr. Berk’s early research showed that just anticipating a good laugh can benefit your health by raising levels of feel-good endorphins and an immunity- enhancing hormone.
So go ahead and enjoy the health miracle of laughter therapy. It’s powerful, proven, pleasurable, and free!