We already know that laughter makes us feel good. New findings suggest it might also make us feel well. Promising tidbits of research show that laughter stimulates a multitude of systems in the body, with both immediate and lasting effects. “The use of laughter is really helping to re-optimize and retune mechanisms in the body,” according to Lee S. Berk, DrPH, a professor and associate dean of research affairs in the School of Allied Health Professions at Loma Linda University.
Laughter, he says, is a positive stress event for the body, similar to exercise or listening to music. And the benefits kick in regardless of the way you laugh, whether it’s a stifled giggle or cackle. Here’s what else you need to know about it:
1. It improves memory
Laughter’s effects start with the brain, where it does nothing short of altering your brain waves. Research shows that having a good laugh enhances an even higher frequency, gamma, which is associated with the highest levels of cognitive processing, including memory and recall.
2. It strengthens the immune system
Laughter undoes some of the damage wrought by a stressful lifestyle. During a negative stress event, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, a hormone that helps put sugar in the muscles (so you can run faster). However, cortisol also suppresses the immune system. A person experiencing chronic stress is continually releasing cortisol and epinephrine, so the individual’s immune system fights all diseases, from colds to cancer, less effectively. Laughter may help bring the cortisol level back in line so the immune system can function well again.
3. It relieves pain
At the same time, it changes the cortisol levels, laughter stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain. You have probably heard of endorphins in the context of exercise, but laughter creates them, too. They are the body’s own morphine. Indeed, we have our own apothecary within us!
4. It makes us happy
You need only look to your personal observations to confirm laughter’s power here. Do you ever have a good laugh and say, “Wow I feel more stressed”? Happiness is a variable as important to your health as any other measured variable. Many diseases are caused or made worse by stress and depression; laughter may be the antidote.
5. It mimics light exercise (even though it doesn’t replace it).
While laughter utilizes some of the same mechanisms as light exercise, it’s no substitute for a workout. There is some caloric loss on laughter, but don’t base your weight-loss program around it.
The bottom line: Laugh more until we have a good reason not to
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