Laughter being a good medicine has long been a popular phrase for creating great comic strips and linking together creative stories for years. But does laughter really have any true benefit for health or is this phrase simply a wish? Researchers are starting to find evidence that laughter really may be a great boost for both health and happiness. Recently it was even shown that even a fetus in the womb can smile, so if we are engineered for this capacity, maybe it has some benefits for us that we didn't expect?
Physiologically, laughter can actually change our bodies it raises our heart rate and blood pressure, which send more oxygen to our brains, muscles, and our organs. Laughter can relax the muscles in the entire body, a process which can actually last for up to 45 minutes afterwards. It also triggers the release of endorphins, chemicals which help you feel good and relieve pain. Overall, laughter basically has the same good effects on our body and our heart that a good workout does and is thought to be protective for our blood vessels and our heart. Laughter even burns calories the same way a workout would. One researcher claimed one minute of laughter was equal to ten minutes on a rowing machine in terms of how it affected the heart. Laughter truly has a much bigger impact on our bodies than we usually give it credit for.
Laughter is much more beneficial than just a simple workout. It is even thought to improve the immune system. It is now suggested through various studies that low stress, optimism, and laughter itself can all promote the immune system and theoretically lead to better ability to fight infections and better health in general. Positive thoughts and laughter decrease the amounts of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. It also releases neuropeptides and immunoglobulins that decrease stress and put you in a better place to fight immune problems . These types of associations are the thing that limits research in the field of the benefits of laughter. Is it really true that a person who laughs more is healthier or does their general health have something to do with their overall outlook and approach to life rather than the laughter itself? Sadly, it is difficult to tell based on research studies. This continues to be a difficult issue within the study of laughter and will continue to be explored in the coming years.
It may be that the main and most important functions of laughter are emotional. Laughter can help build relationships between people. It can help bring in a new perspective in a difficult situation. It can help people not only relax from a stressful place, but also encourage people to have hope and start out in something new. Laughter can also help decrease feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. There is actually talk of a field of medicine now called laughter therapy which would teach people how to view things funny that they would normally take very seriously and to learn how to cope using humor.
Laughter first began to be studied seriously based on self-reports from people about the ability of laughter to ease literal pain from chronic medical conditions. Some feel this is not due to laughter's ability to actually heal, but rather due to the fact that one is distracted from the pain. Either way, if it helps, if laughter is truly able to change us and make things better, does it really matter in what specific way it functions at all? Laughter clearly is a medicine with a lot of power and the coming years will likely show us more about its possibilities and its strengths.