“Laughter is the best medicine.” That saying — which has been retold throughout the ages — now has scientific support for its claim. It turns out that laughter does have the power to boost physical and mental health in many ways.
Laughter and Nitric Oxide
Laughter triggers the production of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that relaxes the walls of the blood vessels and enhances blood flow. The release of nitric oxide starts a chain reaction of other chemicals in the body that result in a shift in energy and a sense of relaxation. Interestingly, nitric oxide also has been described by some researchers as being the key ingredient in creating peak experiences.
Nitric oxide slows aging. Frequent release of this chemical is believed to help prevent strokes, lower cellular inflammation and fight infection. In comparison, fear, anger and grief lower nitric oxide levels, thus setting the body up for poor health outcomes.
The good news is that regular release of nitric oxide can become a recurring habit through the regular pursuit of laughter and other pleasurable pursuits. “The nitric oxide mechanism is a positive feedback look: Create more and you make it easier for your body to create more. Pleasure leads to more pleasure. Life renews itself, while anger, fear, and grief suck the life out of you,” wrote Dr. Christiane Northrup in her book, “Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being.”
Laughter and Dopamine
Laughter triggers the release of dopamine, a neurochemical that also helps calm the body. This neurotransmitter plays a part in controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also offers a number of health benefits, including enhanced immunity, protection against heart disease and lower levels of inflammation.
Laughter and Stress Hormones
Researchers believe that laughter also decreases the release of cortisol and other stress hormones. That’s important because these hormones, when released regularly into the body due to chronic stress, can harm the body in numerous ways ranging from becoming more susceptible to the common cold and gaining weight to developing heart disease, depression and ulcers.
Laughter Improves Memory
Having a regular hearty chuckle may enhance the brain’s memory and recall. In one study, researchers found that healthy adults in their 60s and 70s who watched funny videos performed better on the memory recall portion of the study than a group of participants who sat silently and did nothing.
Laughter and Physical Fitness
Regular laughter also improves physical fitness. For instance, enjoying a good laugh for as little as 15 minutes a day can burn as many as 40 calories. Laughter also improves lung capacity because it encourages longer exhalation, thus helping the lungs expel residual air and replacing that air with oxygen-rich air. This recycling of the lung’s air leads to a cleansing effect that can particularly help people with breathing issues, such as asthma.
Written by Dorian Martin, Editor Jenny Buergermeister
Resources for This Blog:
Agnvall, E. (2014). Stress! Don’t Let It Make You Sick. AARP.
Gendry, S. (ND). Why Laughter Is good for the Respiratory System, Opens Lungs, Ventilates Spirit. Laughter Online University.
Herd, M. (2014). You Asked; Does Laughter Have Real Health Benefits? Time.com.
Northrup, C. (2015). Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. Hay House.
Psychology Today. (ND). Dopamine.
Shah, Y. (2014). New Study Proves That Laughter Really Is The Best medicine. Huffington Post.