Laughter is the best medicine
You have probably heard that saying, and you have probably heard it so many times that you don’t pay much attention to it. But you should pay attention, and a new batch of research lends even more credibility to the idea that laughter can have a direct effect on your health and wellbeing.
Researchers at Loma Linda University found that “experiencing joyful laughter reduces stress hormones, lowers blood pressure, and elevates a person’s mood.” In this study, researchers separated participants into two groups. One group watched funny videos prior to a memory test while the other group did not. The funny-video group then performed better on short-term memory tests, adding to an already sizable amount of research that links laughter to health benefits.
“When there is mirthful laughter,” Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, and associate professor, said, “it’s as if the brain gets a workout because the gamma wave band is in sync with multiple other areas of the brain that are in the same 30-40 hertz frequency. This allows for thinking more clearly and having more integrative thoughts. This is of value to individuals who need or want to revisit, reorganize, or rearrange various aspects of their lives or experiences to make them feel whole or more focused.”
If we think of laughter as exercise, as Berk suggests, its ability to reduce stress becomes even more apparent. In fact, laughter has even been linked to heart health.
Stress is a part of life for all of us in today’s world. Most of us rarely experience true relaxation, yet this state—being relaxed, creative, intuitive, vibrant, intelligent—should be our brain’s normal, default state. It’s how we’re supposed to be.
When we’re stressed, our brain can’t function optimally, and when stress becomes chronic, it can decrease brain health and accelerate cellular aging. In fact, reducing the amount of stress in our life is so critical to brain health that you should devote as much attention to it as you devote to exercise and to eating healthily.
The stress response served our ancestors well 10,000 years ago. For them, stress was almost always induced by physical danger, and those dangers demanded a physical response, like facing down a predator in the wilderness. Today, that stress response can turn on us. In the course of our modern chaotic lives, our stress response may be activated several times a day, but unlike in ancient times, it’s almost always in response to mental threats.
But our stress response is the same. The reaction is physical, even if the stimulant is purely mental, bathing our brain and heart with damaging substances that create systematic inflammation. And that inflammation is tied to a wide range of health complications.
Reducing stress is an essential part of creating health, and laughter is one of the many tools that we have to accomplish this goal (for more stress reduction strategies, reference page 312 in Dr. A’s Habits of Health).
Like exercise, laughter should be a regular part of your life.
“Begin by laughing more daily,” Dr. Gurinder S. Bains, one of the study’s authors, told ABC News. “It will improve your quality of life.”
This is good advice. Watch funny videos. Read funny books. Spend time with positive people that keep you smiling. And don’t be afraid to look for the humor in your everyday life.
Laugh more. Doctor’s orders.