Is Laughter The Best Medicine? 6 Surprising Health Benefits

As evidenced by immediate health benefits, the adage "laughter is the best medicine" has more scientific than literary merit attached to it.

For that reason an entire day has been dedicated by pioneers of the Laughter Yoga movement to promote positive messaging worldwide around the habit of deliberate laughing on the first Sunday every May. This year, it was celebrated on May 5 with laughter enthusiasts gathering in huge numbers in parks and stadiums across the world.  

Some companies have caught on to this easy to do medical intervention and are propagating the message that continuous laughter is equivalent to exercise, especially corporations with an all encompassing approach to the well being of colleagues. Examples are the BBC and Google Inc. — both introduced their employees to laughter yoga by inviting nonprofit organisations and trainers to hold sessions once in a while.

Team building, motivation, stress reduction and efficiency in corporate employees are just added incentives of the exercises that induced forced laughter. In the past, San Diego and Atlanta have hosted American Laughter Championships during which people have lasted an entire hour in a laughing fit.

It may seem absurd that one can sustain laughter for as long as one hour, but it is possible and can be triggered easily according to the Facial Feedback Hypothesis theory. People can evoke emotions by mirroring them, according to the late American psychologist William James.  

One just has to inhale and exhale deeply, followed by mouthing the words “ha ha ha” with thumping energy and it spreads cheer to the crowd instantly because laughter is highly contagious. This process allows the body’s cells to fill up with oxygen and increases blood circulation as a result.

There are more such health benefits that you may not be aware of, so check them out below.

Stress hormones: Reducing stress has an impact on the anxiety levels in the body and increases immunity. A study of 50 IT professionals in Bengaluru, India, in 2006, proved that laughter yoga decreased cortisol levels, the body’s stress hormone, in the saliva.  

Cardiovascular health: If due to unforeseeable circumstances, one cannot exercise physically to improve cardiovascular health, laughter exercises can have the same effect as running for 30 minutes. Dr. Williams Fry from Stanford University proved that ten minutes of laughter is equal to 30 minutes on the rowing machine because of increased blood circulation and heart rate.   

Endorphins: Laughter can increase the production of endorphins that are usually released after a tough workout. Endorphins are key to good health and well-being since the chemical compound is linked to pain resistance. Oxford psychologist Robin Dunbar analysed the effect of laughter on pain resistance in six experiments summarized in a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences in 2011.

In five laboratory studies, participants were shown clips from comedy videos, neutral videos and feel-good videos in different combinations. The laughter derived from watching comedy videos made people more resistant to pain induced by either putting them in physical contact with a frozen wine cooler's sleeve or cuffing their blood pressure. Pain resistance is the only measure of endorphins since it is a brain chemical. A sixth experiment was conducted in an improv club, ending with the same result.

Blood Pressure/Hypertension: Researchers from Osaka University in Japan conducted a study on 79 people aged between 40 and 74 in three sets to study the link between blood pressure and listening to music or laughing. One group of 32 individuals was tested after listening to music, another 30 people were tested soon after laughing, while the last group of 17 was not subjected to any test. All of whom were randomly assigned.

Their blood pressure levels were checked immediately after either listening to music or laughing at Japanese comedy and after three months of doing the assigned activity at one week intervals. It was found that blood pressure readings had come down by 6 mm Hg in people who listened to music immediately and by 7 mm Hg in people who had a great laugh. Similar readings with a little difference was found after three months, according to the study published by WebMD.

T Cells activation: Laughter triggers the activation of Helper T Cells that are necessary to fight off infected target cells when the immunity is compromised in the body. T cells generate B cells responsible for producing antibodies in times of low immunity.   

Abs: Laughter is a physical exercise that is a result of moving the respiratory muscles and larnyx, which is why it is easy to detect a fake laugh as air would not have been able to pass through the vocal chords. When you laugh, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, toning up the abs and shaping up the stomach area that is usually achieved by doing exhaustive push ups and pull ups. 

None of the studies were able to prove long-term benefits of laughter on any medical parameter, though happiness and positivity are indicated by laughter in some general ways. However, scientifically speaking, there has not been a clear link formed between laughter per se and improved health over an extended period of time, or beyond a few months.