Practitioners of gelotology — the study of laughter and its effects on the body — take it very seriously. So much so that many gelotologists prescribe laughter as medicine for what ails us.
Laughter can help ameliorate physical and mental health conditions, says Stanford University professor emeritus William Fry, MD, a gelotology pioneer. In the 1960s, Fry famously experimented on himself, drawing blood samples while watching Laurel and Hardy movies and noting that laughter lowered blood pressure and enhanced immune-system function.
Since then, numerous studies have demonstrated laughter’s salutary effects with “no downsides, side effects, or risks.” And it’s free.
Research finds that laughter can heal in the following ways.
Stimulates vital organs: A bout of laughter affects your body in ways similar to moderate exercise. It causes you to breathe in more air, invigorating your heart, lungs, and circulatory system while relaxing muscles and increasing the brain’s feel-good endorphins and dopamine, according to a Mayo Clinic study. This can protect your cardiovascular system — and even relieve pain.
Soothes tension, anxiety, and stress: A good laugh spurs and then calms your stress response, lowering levels of the stress hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Mayo researchers say this can, in turn, ease your heart rate and blood pressure while stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation — all of which help reduce stress symptoms.
Boosts immunity: Laughter triggers the brain to release neuropeptides, which calm stress and inflammation while boosting production of natural killer cells that fight viral infections, cancer, and other illnesses.
Laughter also helps balance blood sugar in type 2 diabetes patients and relieve symptoms of many chronic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
Enhances cognitive function: A meta-review of worldwide gelotology studies suggests that laughing contributes to brain health by boosting mood, battling depression, promoting a sense of well-being, and even improving overall mental function.
“Current research indicates that laughter has quantifiable positive physiologic benefits,” researchers summarized.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.