Laughter Really is the Best Medicine
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Laughter isn’t just a way to convey a feeling of being genuinely happy. Harvard Medical School’s website, Harvard Health Publishing, laughter may also benefit our brain and health, as well.
In 2010, neuroscientists began compiling evidence to study whether laughter triggers chemical responses in the brain that lead to feelings of pleasure and a sense of well-being. Arteries, according to the website, respond to laughter in healthy ways that could improve blood flow and long-term health.
At the University of Texas in Austin, researchers asked 17 healthy adults to watch a humorous 30-minute video of their choosing or a documentary, with before and after tests of blood flow. The biggest differences between the two groups were seen in measures of artery function and flexibility. Both metrics improved immediately in the volunteers who watched a comedy, and it stayed that way for almost 24 hours. In those who watched a documentary, artery function actually decreased a small amount.
Michael Miller from the University of Maryland Medical Center and William Fry, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine, who began studying the effects of laughter on the cardiovascular system in the 1970s, hypothesize that brain chemicals called endorphins, which are released during mirthful laughter, latch onto opiate receptors in the lining of blood vessels. This interaction, according to Harvard, stimulates blood vessels to release nitric oxide, which is know to relax arteries, making them more flexible and wide and permitting easier blood flow.
Published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers set out to measure energy expenditure (EE) and heart rate (HR) during genuine laughter. Forty-five adults between the ages of 18-34 years old with body mass index’s of 17.9 to 41.1 participated in the small study. Results showed that genuine laughter caused a 10-20% increase in EE and HR above resting values, which means that 10-15 minutes of laughter per day could increase total EE by 10-40 kcals.
Though these are small studies and larger, more advanced trials would need to be performed in order to test real health benefit, it seems more laughter doesn’t hurt.