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When is the last time you had a really good laugh? You know, the kind that makes you lose your breath for a bit. That laughter is not only fun, there a many health benefits to a good belly laugh.

Laughter can

  • boost your immune system
  • exercise your heart
  • decrease pain
  • increase energy
  • lessen effects of stress
  • bring your mind and body into balance
  • help bond you with others.

Researchers have studied laughter and how it works in the body. Laughing causes you to take in more oxygen, which stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. When you laugh, your brain releases more endorphins, your body’s natural feel good chemicals. Endorphins can help to temporarily relieve pain.  Laughing initially activates the stress response in your body, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Almost magically, the relaxation response follows. Circulation increases and your muscles relax. This helps to reduce the effects of stress felt in your body.

Laughter brings about a number of mental health benefits as well. We tend to feel good when we laugh. That good feeling lasts well beyond the laughter. Laughter and humor can help us navigate difficult times in life and relieve anxiety and fear. Humor helps us approach situations with a light-hearted perspective. It’s almost impossible to feel angry or sad when you’re laughing. Laughter contributes to overall well-being and helps us to become more resilient.

The social benefits of laughter include connecting with others, increasing positive social bonds and strengthening relationships. Sharing a good laugh goes a long way to buffering against stress and conflict in a relationship. Laughter can bring people together through difficult situations.

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Helpguide.org offers tips to bring more laughter and humor into our lives:

  • Smile – the physical act of smiling can help our bodies and moods to improve. It’s the first step toward laughing.
  • Share a laugh – spend time with family and friends who make you laugh. Laughter can be quite contagious… and that’s a wonderful thing to get ‘infected’ with.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself – this will help you to be more light-hearted about your own situations. Watch your stress fade away.
  • Get a pet – they often entertain us with their silly antics and make us laugh. My daughter has daily peels of giggles and laughter at something silly that her guinea pigs have done.
  • Watch a situational comedy – the reason they are so funny is because we can picture ourselves in those situations. We’ve ‘been there, done that’ and it helps us to take life less seriously. When my daughter was healing from a disease last year, she watched a family comedy show frequently to distract herself from pain, and indulge in a little laughter.

Look for the humor in life – and you’ll find some. Enjoy the benefits of laughing… your body will thank you and others will want to catch what you’ve got.

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you…” ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Written by: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County

Reviewed by: Joanna Fifner, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Medina County

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baby laughing.

Could laughing more help prevent heart attacks?  Could this no cost, no side effect action really be part of the preventative action needed to keep one free from heart disease?

A team from the University of Maryland Center for Preventive Cardiology has started to document some proof of this very thing. In fact, this study which is the first to show a connection between an active sense of humor and laughter and heart disease found that people with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh compared to others of the same age that did not have heart disease.

The key professor of medicine involved in this study, Dr. Michael Miller. M.D. explained the connection of mental stress with problems in the protective barrier lining that lines the blood vessels. An inflammatory reaction leads to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries. This is what leads to heart attacks.

This study looked at 300 people, one half with heart disease and the other half without heart disease. Questionnaires that looked at how often people laughed in certain situations as well as anger and hostility indexes were used. The study showed that those with heart disease didn’t laugh at everyday situations as often and often displayed more anger.  Miller concluded that with heart disease being the number one killer of citizens, the ability to laugh may be one of the most important ways to decrease the disease.

Maybe someday the prescription for a healthy heart will include eating right, exercising and a good daily dose of laughter!

 

Source: http://www.umm.edu/features/layghter.htm.

Author: Liz Smith, Family and Consumer Science Extension Educator, Ohio State University.

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