The old adage that laughter is the best medicine often holds true. This exercise is good for our bodies as well as our souls, and has some surprising health benefits. In addition to laughing, maintaining a positive outlook and finding humor in the ordinary can even help increase life expectancy.
Children are quite often cheerful souls. The average preschooler laughs about 400 times a day. Adults, on the other hand, may only laugh 17 times a day. If you’ve ever wondered why your child can eat anything without gaining weight, it may be in part due to his or her ability to laugh. 10-15 minutes of laughing a day can burn over 200 calories, about the same amount in a medium sized candy bar.
Part of the calorie burn results from the cardiovascular exercise of laughter, because it elevates the heart rate, thus speeding up the metabolism. If you are dieting, consider adding laughter to your exercise regimen. Keep in mind that a good sitcom might easily keep you laughing for 20 minutes or more.
Laughing has also been shown to relieve stress. In fact, studies on nurses who work in emergency departments found that those who were able to be humorous on the job were least likely to suffer from job burn out and high stress. This is because laughing helps the body produce chemicals like growth hormone and dopamine. It also helps the body reduce production of “stress hormones,” like epinephrine, cortisol and adrenaline.
Further, nurses who were able to joke with patients also increased the patient’s comfort. Dr. Patch Adams, an advocate for "humanitarian clowning," wasn’t wrong when he realized that joking with patients could actually help people recover more quickly or have less perception of pain. Recent studies in pain management show that pain is partly perceptual and is influenced by stress hormones. The more stress hormones the body produces, the more pain a patient feels. Therefore, laughter alone can help alleviate single pain incidents or chronic pain.
Laughing also boosts the immune response in the body by aiding in the production of T-cells, which can help fight infection. Laughter also produces proteins called Gammainterferon and B-cells. These cells provide antibodies that search out and destroy disease cells. Laughing a lot might also prevent a person from getting a cold or two a year, and may definitely be of aid to those with chronic illnesses.
If you’re having trouble summoning up laughing, there are numerous ways to get help. Think of comedic films that you enjoy, and try renting a few. Study joke books and institute a nightly joke policy with your family. People watch, and laugh in a nice way at the absurdity of human behavior. Also surround yourself with people who laugh, because laughter is actually contagious. You may find yourself laughing more often just by being around people who laugh more frequently.