There are some friends that make us feel better when we are around them. It could be their quirky mannerisms, their hilarious jokes, or their witty banter. No matter the combination, things seem a little brighter after a good belly laugh with them. So what is it about them, or laughter more specifically? They say laughter is the best medicine. But why? This article will look at the health benefits of laughing, which may make us reconsider our regular fitness regimen a little.
To better understand the mysterious health benefits behind giggles, we need to understand the dynamics behind a laugh. NBC News did an article on what the body does during a giggle. In short, various muscle groups contract in the face, abdomen, and chest. With rapid exhales, there is an increase in oxygen flow. Your heart rate increases to manage the increased air flow. Some people experience a release of endorphins, pain-numbing hormones related to joy, and some people manage to burn extra calories.
Levity elevates some of the tension, but now research is suggesting preventative qualities, as well. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published a study that among patients with cancer, humor not only decreased anxiety and the but improved cell activity involved with disease resistance.
The group who received the humor therapy proved to be more relaxed than the distraction treatment control group.This means, “...increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease…”
Emotions can be complex, but it may be somewhat obvious that someone who is sincerely laughing is not sad in that moment. They may be laughing so hard they cry. They may be crying initially and start laughing after a humorous thought. Either way, laughter can in some cases decrease the impact of depression symptoms.
The not-so-obvious is the longer-term effects laughter can have on depression and sleep problems. One study looked at the benefits of laughter therapy on a group of seniors. The group that received the therapy, consisting of 4 sessions in a month, experienced a decrease in depression symptoms and also reported better sleep. In my own group therapy practice, when the happiness and laughter topic was brought up, clients reported an elevated mood for the rest of the day or several days after a 20 minute discussion.
Yes, believe it or not someone has found a way to measure just about everything. A study at Vanderbilt University found that the average person burns between 10-40 calories from 10 minutes of laughter. So if we do the math, here are some comparisons.
Please note that these are estimates for the average 150 pound person. The numbers will change for variations in weight, other movements, and pace for the 10 minute interval of the activity:
Sleeping = 10.5 cal
Sitting = 17 cal
Standing = 22 cal
Walking (leisurely) = 20 cal
Laughing = 20 cal
Jogging = 60 cal
Also note, the laughter would need to be pretty consistent, but it would make quite an ab workout.
This is perhaps the most fascinating aspect. The lymphatic system cleans toxins in the blood. However, unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system lacks a pump like the heart. So, it relies on the natural flow. Pressure from a good diaphragmatic belly laugh helps to increase the speed and flow of white blood cells and T cells to fight infections.
At this point, I doubt our local gyms will house a comedy troupe and our wearable technology may never include a giggle index feature. Nonetheless, there is increasing research suggesting that laughter is packed with goodness on multiple levels. So, it may be worth it to buy tickets to that comedy show, that joke of the day app, or even get caught up on 41 years of SNL. Although, sitting on the couch and binge watching the SNL would not be advised.
Erica is a psychotherapist and humanitarian aid coordinator who has a background in health psychology, global health, and addictions. She has over 16 years of counseling, teaching, and coaching experience. Erica has several masters degrees, is a licensed counselor, and has an addiction certification. She has worked with all ages in the US and abroad. Follow Erica on Twitter. Se habla español.
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