Laughter Is Good Medicine

Making time to laugh and play can boost your health. Experts say that laughter increases endorphins, strengthens your immune system, and sends extra oxygen coursing through your veins. Find out why some researchers believe laughing is as good as a mild workout.

Laughter Is Good MedicinePhoto: Thinkstock

Burns Calories

Laughing for 10 to 15 minutes raises energy expenditure, increases heart rate, and can burn up to 40 calories. However, it’s not a weight-loss method. “People can’t eat at McDonald’s and then expect to laugh away their lunch,” says Dr. Maciej Buchowski, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University. Even so, a few calories every day translates to a few pounds a year-so keep those laughs coming!

Causes “Runner’s High”

Laughing increases positive endorphins, reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. Even just anticipating something funny increases anti-viral, anti-tumour defences, reports Dr. Lee Berk of the School of Medicine at Loma Linda University. The benefits of humour can last up to 24 hours-this may be why we say “laughter is the best medicine.”

Increases Job Satisfaction

Humour improves communication, creativity and overall performance in the workplace, says Dr. Chris Robert. He’s a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia who studied how laughter affects employees. He says, “The ability to appreciate humour, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh, actually has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded.”

Increases Hope and Self-Worth

Watching just 15 minutes of a comedy show can alleviate worries about health or career. Texas A&M psychiatrist David H. Rosen found that a chuckle can replace negative thoughts with positive ones and help formulate a “plan of attack” for problems. This in turn increases feelings of self-worth, which makes overcoming obstacles even easier. 

Protects Against Heart Disease

“Research suggests that a good sense of humour wards off heart attacks,” says psychologist Steve Wilson. “Laughter dilates blood vessels so blood flows more freely. Humour was a significant positive addition to standard cardiac rehabilitation.” Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Centre for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Centre reports that laughing reduces the fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries. He says, “The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart.” 

Eliminates “Us Versus Them” Thinking

Comedy makes us more inclusive of others and helps us see the big picture. Happiness and humour reduces narrow-minded perspectives, says University of Michigan psychology researcher Kareem Johnson. Laughing can slash bias and bring people together, which strengthens our work, home, and school relationships.

Improves Counseling Sessions

Therapists who laugh with their clients increase feelings of connection and bonding, reports Dr. Carl Marci, the director of Social Neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital. Psychologist Steve Wilson adds, “Laughter is thought to be one of the earliest ways that humans signalled support and ‘it is safe to relax here.’ Good-natured shared laughter between counsellor and client can foster trust, rapport and reduced defensiveness.”  

Helps Kids Tolerate Pain

Cartoons can help children cope with painful procedures, such as needles or visits to the dentist. In October 2007, Dr. Margaret Stuber from the University of California’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Centre found humour helped kids tolerate pain longer. In her study, the young patients who watched funny movies still felt the pain of a standardized pain test (in this case, dipping their hands into icy cold water), but they could endure it better because they were distracted.

Improves Classroom Interactions

Research shows that humour facilitates student discussions and increases course enjoyment. Mark Shatz, a psychology professor at Ohio University, found that top ten lists, jokes, and cartoons-all related to the course material-increased academic performance and students’ level of participation. “They expect us [teachers] to be boring and dull. We don’t have to be funny, but the attempt tells students that we’re trying to make the course more interesting.”

Strengthens the Immune System

“Stress hormones are reduced during laughter, allowing the immune cells to function better,” says psychologist Steve Wilson. “Laughing also promotes an oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange and clears airways. Muscles and joints are flexed and stretched, promoting muscle tone.” He says that by some estimates, laughter is a human ability that is about four million years old. “We need to be using it, not stifling it.”

Popular Videos