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Why Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Brooke McKelvey

Published in Lifestyle

9 min read

January 24, 2022
two people laughing
two people laughing

How many times have you heard this one? It sounds like something you say just to cheer people up, diffuse tension in a difficult situation, or help encourage a sense of humor. But there are actual health benefits to laughing! It’s not really that surprising. Think about how you feel after you’ve just watched a funny movie or read a funny story. A good joke can make you laugh out loud, but it may also help with your stress response, which can positively impact specific health issues and improve overall wellbeing. 

So, is laughter really the best medicine? Well, maybe not the best, but its health benefits aren’t really a secret. The one surprising thing is just how varied the benefits of laughter are. A sense of humor can help you feel good, boost your mental health and help eliminate or reduce the occurrence of negative thoughts

But it can do so much more than help on a psychological level—laughter helps your physical health too. In fact, new research shows that laughter may also improve your diabetes treatment, while positive emotions may benefit your immune system and improve endocrine responses in the body.

What Happens When You Laugh?

A couple eating and laughing

What happens to your body when you hear a good joke or encounter funny things? You laugh! But have you ever stopped to wonder what happens inside your body during all those minutes of laughter? 

Laughter is a physical response to your brain’s processing of humor. This response is made up of physical movement and sound. Your facial muscles, respiratory system, arm muscles, leg muscles, and trunk muscles are all involved in laughter. Simply put, it’s an involuntary action beginning with the constriction of your larynx and ending with a sound and bodily spasm.

As we’ve said multiple times already, laughter is pretty good for you. Lively laughter triggers various regions of your neurological system. The motor control region helps coordinate activities, while other parts like the frontal lobes understand the context and produce positive emotions. 

Laughing can make you feel good by activating neural pathways in your brain that are responsible for emotions like joy, mirth, and happiness. All of this boosts your mood and improves physical responses. You’ll experience increased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (which helps regulate things like sleep patterns). And, social laughter has even been found to boost the release of endorphins, which also help you feel good. So, don’t hold back that laugh—it’s incredible how much better life feels when you’re tuned into this kind of energy!

Can Laughter Help with Diabetes Treatment?

A woman laughing as she bakes

Laughter therapy research has been ongoing since the late 70s, with researchers studying an effective therapy to use during treatments of various illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. But what they didn’t know until relatively recently was precisely how this worked. Now, they understand how it could impact things like your heart rate and blood flow and that it may have health benefits for diabetics. 

New research has shown a positive link between patients with diabetes and laughter. Researchers have found that patients who laugh often respond better to their treatments and have fewer side effects. Laughter can reduce cortisol levels, increase endorphins, and help lower postprandial glucose levels. 

So, laughter could be an excellent addition to your diabetes management plan. It functions similarly to exercise, improving the overall performance of your heart’s muscular function, helping to prevent heart disease, and lowering blood sugar levels. Laughter also stimulates positive emotions, which are known factors that decrease glucose levels. 

A study conducted at the University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki, Japan, proved that patients who laughed after dinner had a lower blood sugar spike than those who did not. The laughter lowered blood sugar and prorenin levels in their bloodstreams. Prorenin is a protein that raises blood pressure and is associated with the onset of diabetes symptoms. 

Negative thoughts and emotions have been known to make diabetes symptoms worsen. Anxiety, sadness, and stress have been linked to blood glucose levels rising in diabetic patients. And besides all that, laughter makes you feel good. So, even though research is ongoing, there are really no downsides to focusing on at least a few minutes of laughter a day. 

Laughing Benefits Mental and Physical Health

A couple laughing on the couch

Did you know January 24 is observed globally as Belly Laugh Day? It reminds people to make time for some laughter and to spread a little positivity. And with all the health benefits laughter provides, it’s just another good excuse to laugh a little more. Here are a few more ways laughter can improve your health, just in case you need more reasons to focus on having a good laugh every now and then:

It Helps Your Immune System 

Laughter really can be the best medicine, at least for your immune system. Laughter lowers stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and increases infection-fighting antibodies, improving your disease resistance.

It Encourages Endorphin Release

A man on an office chair, laughing

Laughter can reduce pain, boost your mood and relieve stress. People who laugh often may be happier than those who don’t. A lot of that is thanks to the release of endorphins—chemicals produced naturally by your body that help you feel happy (even if only temporarily). These hormones promote an overall sense of wellbeing and temporarily relieve pain.

It May Help You Live Longer

The link between laughter and disease reduction means you have a better chance of leading a healthier, happier, and longer life. So don’t forget to get a good laugh in to help this along!

It May Prevent Heart Disease

A mother and daughter on the couch together, laughing and reading a magtazine

Laughter can improve your heart health by improving how your blood vessels function and increasing the flow and intake of oxygen. Studies show that people who laugh more often have lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and even some types of cancer.

It Can Help with Weight Loss

Laughter may not make it onto the list of dietary and lifestyle changes when you are trying to lose weight, but it isn’t without merit of its own. Laughter is known to have a warming effect on the body, which may help some people burn calories. 

You Get Some Stress Relief

A man wearing headphones, holding a smartphone, lying on his back and laughing

Negative thoughts and emotions can affect your mental health and result in blood sugar spikes. Laughter can help with stressful situations and may also help some people with negative feelings. It can help your body get rid of all of the hormones released from negative thoughts and emotions, replacing them with good hormones. 

It Can Release Physical Tension 

From all the physical changes laughter helps with, this can be the most helpful on a daily basis. You may not even realize how physically tense your body becomes when you experience stress. Laughter has been scientifically proven to relieve physical tension and stress, leaving you feeling relaxed and refreshed up to 45 minutes after.

Get Some Laughter Therapy

A couple taking a break from painting a room, holding each other and laughing

Now you know that a session of laughter a day may actually help keep your doctor away. But you may be wondering—if I can’t force a laugh to get all the health benefits, how do I incorporate it into my daily life? Instead of forcing a laugh, try surrounding yourself with funny things. Watch funny TV shows, read funny stories, go to a stand-up show, or just surround yourself with your funniest friends! You can also try humor therapy

Consider Joining a Laughter Club

Yes, laughter clubs are real, and no, they’re not the same as comedy clubs. Laughter clubs are social clubs that believe in using laughter as an exercise to improve your wellbeing. They’re like yoga clubs that treat laughter as aerobic exercise. The idea is that they can help encourage a better intake of oxygen to your mind and body. 

The ideology behind laughter yoga is that it may help you with everything from diabetes, depression, asthma, and migraines, to menstrual disorders, allergies, and high blood pressure, among others. Laughter clubs use a combination of breathing exercises, stretching exercises, meditation, and laughter. 

Add Humor Into Your Life

A group of friends laughing together
  • Get a book of jokes or a calendar centered around humor that you find funny. Start your day with a good laugh by reading a daily joke.
  • Set an intention to laugh more every day. Don’t shut out funny things around you to stay more focused. Allow yourself to see the humor in little things.
  • Hang out more with people that make you smile. Forgo that unnecessary networking dinner and go out with friends that make you laugh instead. You may even find that you get more work done the next day because you’re in such a great mood.
  • Find a funny TV show and watch that in your downtime a couple of times a week. Make sure it has you laughing all the way down to the bottom of your belly! We’re partial to shows like Rick & Morty, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Black Monday, Peep Show, Trailer Park Boys... we’ve got such a long list! Start creating your own so you can go back to some feel-good favorites when you’re a bit blue. 
  • If you’re an animal person, play with your pets more, or get a pet. Especially if you live alone, a pet can help ensure you get at least one laugh a day in. There’s a reason that most of the memes on social media are so pet-focused!
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. If you’re learning something new or have an awkward moment, take a minute and find some humor in the situation. A sense of humor can help make life a little lighter. 
  • Find time to do more things that make you laugh. What was the last thing you did that had you laughing to the point of tears? Go do that again.
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Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Reviewed by: Natalie Carroll, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

Natalie received her degree in Dietetics from Mansfield University and a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition from the University at Buffalo. Her career has included nutrition education and program development in her local community, adjunct faculty at several collegiate institutions, and clinical nutrition in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

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