Need a good laugh? Here’s one to tickle your funnybone: giggling keeps your heart stronger, might lower your blood sugar levels and even enhances your friendships. Researchers studying the health benefits of laughter agree: unlike stress and worry, laughing doesn’t hurt us, physically or emotionally—and it may very well cure what ails us.
Nor does it take long for our systems to respond to something funny. Less than half a second, in fact, is all the time our brains need to see or hear a joke, “get” it, and tell our bodies that it’s time to smile or laugh. Laughter truly is as spontaneous as we've always believed it to be.
Can laughing each day keep the doctor away?
Joking around may not heal every ailment, but the health benefits of a good laugh are far-reaching. Here are a few:
- You can laugh your way to a healthier heart. Researchers first linked laughter to healthy blood vessels in 2005, when they showed two movies to volunteers and found that when watching a funny movie, brachial artery flow increased 22 percent. Watching a movie that caused mental stress had the opposite effect, slowing blood flow about 35 percent.
- Laughing will help your heart, but a healthy heart also will help you laugh more easily. Michael Miller, MD, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, conducted both the 2005 study and more recent research that found individuals with heart disease laughed less than healthier people—and affirming that not only laughter but an ongoing sense of humor may keep heart attacks at bay. “The ability to laugh—either naturally or as learned behavior—may have important implications in societies such as the US where heart disease remains the number one killer,” he said.
- It’s a workout! A researcher at Vanderbilt University, Maciej Buchowski, found that 10-15 minutes of laughing burned off 50 calories, while another laughter scientist, William Fry, said that one minute of robust laughter sent his heart rate to the same level as 10 minutes on a rowing machine. The fact is, laughing is a physical act—not just an emotion—whose physical nature helps laughers find a stimulus pleasurable, or funny.
- Laughing is good for your blood sugar. In a study of 19 people with diabetes, subjects attended a boring lecture after they ate a meal. The following day, the group watched a comedy after eating an identical meal. Their blood sugar levels were lower after watching the funny movie than after hearing the dry lecture.
- Laughing makes you smarter. Noticing that his lectures literally put his students to sleep, Ron Berk, PhD, retired psychologist from Johns Hopkins Medical School, began telling jokes in class and noticed his studentsperformed better in exams. He launched a formal study to prove his observations and published his results in the October 2012 issue of Humor: students kept awake by laughing at the prof’s jokes scored significantly higher on their exams.
- Laughter attunes people to each other. Humor binds people in a unique way, syncing the brains of the joke-teller and listener, says neuroscientist Robert Provine, PhD, author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation (Penguin Books, 2001). That connection clears the way for relationship-building, he says, concluding that men are attracted to women who laugh (and women laugh 126 percent more than men), and that laughter, like yawning, is contagious in social situations.
Join the “laughter movement!”
Not everyone is funny—or chuckles easily—by nature. But even if you have to fake it, laughter can boost your health. Here are a few tips for getting more laughter into your life:
- Just decide to laugh. You don’t need a reason, but you can train yourself to laugh more often and more heartily. “Act Happy. Talk Happy. Behave Happy. Think Happy. Ignore the negative. Focus exclusively on whatever is positive in your life,” writes Sebastien Gendry, founder of the American School of Laughter Yoga.
- Hang out with happy people. Just as laughing is contagious, so is complaining. Avoid negative people when you can.
- Make laughter and positivity your personal mission. Consider joining the 21-Day Complaint Free Challenge. More than 10 million people have succeeded in not complaining, gossiping or criticizing for 21 days, earning Complaint-Free Bracelets for their contributions to a happier planet. You’ll be in good company: the 6 millionth bracelet was awarded to poet Maya Angelou.
¶A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Proverbs 17:22