By: Kristi Passey, Director, Vienna Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

Good health isn’t just about eating right and
exercising and staying on top of your annual check ups. Good health is also
about being happy. Have you heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”?
Well there’s some truth to that. Laughter is an important part to living a
healthy life. Science is finding there are real benefits of laughter. Some
researchers think laughter just might be the best medicine and that laughter
may help you feel better.

A true belly laugh might be good for you!
While there’s some evidence that laughter my help boost your immune system,
overall research results have been mixed.

In the last few decades, researchers have
studied laughter’s effects on the body and turned up some potentially
interesting information on how it affects us:

  • Blood Flow Researchers at the University of
    Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either
    comedies or dramas. After the screening, blood vessels of the group who watched
    the comedy behaved normally -- expanding and contracting easily. On the other
    hand, people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.
  • Immune Response Increased stress is associated
    with decreased immune system response, says Robert R. Provine, professor of
    psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland. Some studies have
    shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection fighting
    antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells.
  • Blood sugar levels One study of people with
    diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating,
    the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same
    meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood
    sugar levels compared to the lecture.
  • Relaxation and Sleep Professor Provine says
    that the most convincing health benefit he’s seen from laughter is its ability
    to dull pain. Numerous studies of people in pain or discomfort have found that
    when they laugh they report that their pain doesn’t bother them as much.

A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments,
though we wish they could. Hospitals would be much happier places!

Data is mounting though that laughter can
bring positive outcomes. You can see some of those effects immediately. When
you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually
induces physical changes in your body. Laughing brings in oxygen rich air that
stimulates your organs and increases endorphins. Plus, it cools down your
stress hormones. That’s why you always feel so relaxed after a good laugh.

In the long term, laughter is important too.
Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by
bringing more stress into your immune system. We know stress is bad for our
immune system and makes us gain the most unhealthy types of weight. Conversely,
positive thoughts actually release something called neuropeptides (small
molecules that help different parts of our brain communicate) that help fight
stress and potentially more serious illnesses.

The effects of laughter and exercise are
similar. Laughter even burns calories! Nowhere near as much as exercises, but a
good laugh with friends for one hour could burn about 50 calories. Not too bad,
right?

So how can you incorporate more laughter into
your life? Are you afraid you have an underdeveloped - or nonexistent - funny
bone? Don’t worry. Humor can be learned. In fact, developing or refining your
sense of humor may be easier than you think. Here’s a few tips to get you
chuckling and working towards a healthier you:

  • Watch a funny movie
  • Read the comics in the paper and
    when you find one that makes you laugh, hang it in your home or office.
  • Find a way to laugh about your own
    situations and watch your stress fade. Even if it’s forced at first, practice
    laughing. It does your body good.
  • Make it a habit to spend time with
    your friends who make you laugh
  • Hang out with kids. They’re always
    good for a laugh

With all of this being said, laughter is not
the end all to great health, no matter how much we wish it was. Laughter is
important though. A “healthy” sense of humor can contribute to physically
healthy bodies. Science is proving that our moods have physical outcomes in our
health. Hearty laughter is the crucial component in the humor-health
connection; humor and amusement without laughter would not be expected to
provide any benefits. Even forced laughter may be expected to have beneficial
effects.

So go laugh. Get engaged in the moment and
laugh it up. Laughter really is some of the best medicine!