Mental and Physical Health: Is Laughter the Best Medicine?
Feeling under the weather? If so, it might surprise you to learn that comedy might just be the best remedy.
Indeed, over the years, laughter has been attributed to many health benefits, including boosting energy levels, decreasing physical pain, and promoting stress relief and relaxation. However, while some medical experts are touting the benefits of a good chuckle, others are questioning whether or not there is sound scientific evidence to back up such claims. So the question remains: is laughing really good for our physical and/or mental health?
Laughter and Our Bodies
When we laugh, our bodies change physiologically. Laughter causes us to use the muscles in our faces and bodies, leading to increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing patterns. In fact, some experts suggest that our bodies' reactions to laughing are so similar to exercise, they may just offer us the same benefits.
In fact, one research study reported that it took only one minute of solid laughter for a person's heart rate to increase to the same level as someone using a rowing machine for 10 minutes.
Furthermore, laughter has also been found to burn approximately 50 calories for every 10-15 minutes of laughter. Of course, considering most people don't laugh for hours on end, you should be cautious in adapting laughter as a part of your exercise routine.
Health Benefits of Laughter
Over the years, researchers have conducted a number of studies attempting to provide further insight into the supposed benefits of laughter on a person's health. Among the evidence they've produced, are:
- Pain Reduction. Laughter has been proven to, at the very least, distract a patient from his pain, allowing him to sleep and perform other daily activities with greater comfort. In fact, this is one of the only benefits of laughter that is not widely disputed.
- Reduced Stress. Of all the hormones that affect our stress levels, laughter appears to reduce at least four of them: epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, as well as growth hormones. In addition, laughter promotes muscle relaxation, which also helps our bodies destress.
- Boosted Immune System. Certain studies have shown that laughter promotes the production of infection-fighting antibodies, thereby strengthening the immune system.
- Improved Blood Flow. In another study, participants' blood vessels were monitored both before and after being shown comedies and dramas. The researchers found that those who watched the comedy had blood vessels that behaved normally, while those who watched the dramas had vessels that tended to tense up, limiting blood flow.
- Lower Blood Sugar Levels. Interestingly, one study found that people with diabetes who watched comedies after a meal have lower blood sugar levels than those subjected to a lecture.
Expert Opinion: Prescribing Laughter?
Despite all the studies that have been conducted, many experts are still skeptical of claims that laughter can actually benefit our minds and bodies. They point out that the research which has been conducted has been on a small-scale. Furthermore, they argue that many enter the study wanting to prove that laughter is good for us, creating a bias right from the start.
In addition, the studies haven't differentiated the effects of laughing versus, say, shouting. More importantly, they have not successfully determined whether laughter is the cause or effect of good health. In other words, if people who are less likely to be sick are also found to laugh more, it's almost impossible to know if they are not sick because they laugh, or laughing because they're not sick.
At the end of the day though, we have to wonder if it really matters whether or not we can prove laughing makes us healthier. We laugh because it makes us happy, and we already know that happiness leads to a better quality of life.
Isn’t that reason enough?