Is Laughter the Best Medicine?
It feels so good to laugh, doesn’t it? Especially at the moment, after more than a year of social restrictions, closed pubs, theatres and comedy clubs. One of the things I’ve missed the most during lockdown is communal laughter. It connects people. From a tiny titter to a great guffaw, laughter can completely change the temperature of a room.
Scientists are fascinated by laughter. Researchers at the Loma Linda University in California have been researching the health benefits of laughter and made some interesting discoveries…
Laughter lowers blood pressure – and lower blood pressure means a reduced risk of stroke and heart attack.
It reduces stress hormone levels – laughter makes us feel less anxious and stressed, which reduces the negative impact of these emotions on our body, while simultaneously increasing the health of our immune system.
It helps tone your abs – OK, it’s not going to replace your tums, bums and thighs class but when you laugh the muscles in your stomach contract and relax, similar to when you intentionally exercise them. That can only be a good thing, right?
It increases cardio activity – laughter gets your heart pumping and burns a similar number of calories per hour as walking at a slow to moderate pace. Who knew?
It increases our sense of wellbeing. Doctors have found that people who have a positive outlook on life tend to fight off diseases better than people with a more negative outlook. The reason for this may be that it boosts T-cells, which are the specialist immune system cells. Laughter activates T-cells, so happy people who laugh frequently are probably less vulnerable to infection!
It triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers, so laughter can help relieve chronic pain.
Did you know that we are 30 times more likely to laugh when in a group than when we’re alone? Or that four-year-olds laugh 300 times a day but 40-year-olds only 300 times every 10 weeks! This is probably due to a number of factors, including the belief that adulthood and work is ‘serious’, but also because we worry about offending, about the joke falling flat, and about just not being funny. We become scared to be silly. No one is suggesting that you suddenly start telling off-colour mother-in-law jokes, but a little levity can lighten everyone’s day, whether it’s a shared snigger with a colleague over one of your boss’s foibles, or a funny anecdote about your dog shared with a friend.
During last year’s lockdown with the shift to remote working, the incidence of loneliness and depression has increased dramatically. Many of us have felt disconnected, so when we laugh with someone – even through a screen or 2m apart – we generate a cocktail of hormones that strengthens our emotional bonds, our wellbeing and our immune system in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
As restrictions are eased, it may do us all good to seek out opportunities for having a good giggle with someone who we know makes us laugh.
By Kate McCarthy