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Laughter is the best medicine

When was the last time you experienced a deep belly-laugh? Research shows children laugh about 400 times a day, but adults on average laugh only about 15 times.

They say that “Laughter is the Best Medicine”, but is that saying really true?

I love this old photo of my mom and my kids - laughter always seemed to come easy to her, especially before she started to struggle with dementia. I realize that I don't laugh nearly as easily - smile and feel joy, sure - but truly laugh with abandon?

With everything that is going on in the world today, gun violence, wars, human rights abuse, burnout from the pandemic, still hiding our smiles behind masks, we need more mental and stress relief. Laughter, which is so good for your health, is wonderful when spontaneous, but when we are lacking in it, we may need to be intentional with our joy and laughter.

What are the benefits, the healing powers of laughter?

Here are 5 reasons why laughter is the best medicine.

1. Laughter reduces stress

Laughter lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. After a bout of laughter, your blood pressure and heart rate are lowered, you muscles relax, and you feel less stressed. During laughter, your oxygen intake increases – a good laugh can relieve muscle tension for up to 45 minutes. [Evid Compl Alt Med 2015]

2. Laughter relieves pain

Laughter releases endorphins in the brain – our pain killing hormones. Studies have shown that laughter and humor increased pain tolerance and improved quality of life, and increased pain tolerance remained present 20 minutes after laughing. [J Behav Med. 1987]

3. Laughter lightens feelings of anxiety and depression

Laughter activates the release of serotonin as well as increasing dopamine, feel-good hormones in your brain. Laughter forms social bonds and fosters brain connectivity – it triggers positive feelings and creates positive bonds. Laughter is contagious – when someone smiles or laughs, through a mirroring reflex, we tend to join in smiling or laughing back, connecting you to others. [Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016]

4. Laughter is good for your heart

Laughter improves heart function. It relaxes arteries and increases blood flow, and stays that way for almost 24 hours. It also decreases inflammatory cytokines measured in the blood. Laughing more actually correlates with lower risks of heart attack [Int J Cardiol. 2001].

5. Laughter strengthens your immune system

Laughter increases serum immunoglobulins A and E. It also increases Natural Killer (NK) cell numbers and activity. These cells are critical in fighting cancer, as they patrol your body for abnormal and cancerous cells and kill them to prevent spread. Multiple studies have demonstrated that lowered NK cell activity correlates with cancer risk and poorer prognosis.

In a study done at the Osaka International Cancer institute, cancer patients who enjoyed laughing by watching comedy increased their immune cell cytokines and NK cell numbers and also improved their QOL, measured by pain and their mood – compared with cancer patients who instead watched sports.

Spontaneous laughter from joy is of course wonderful and desirable. But, even if you don’t feel the urge to laugh, you can still derive the benefits from laughter by reading or watching something humorous or by even pretending to laugh.

There is even a practice called laughter yoga, which is an exercise where you laugh according to a rhythm or cadence, and often real laughter comes from the experience. Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up and smile, even if it feels forced. Give a little laugh. Are your muscles less tense? Do you feel more relaxed?

I know that I for one, will be pursuing laughter and joy more intentionally. Life is too short to not live fully, without laughter and connection.

If you would like to achieve your best health and mindset, I invite you to come and work with me. Follow me on social media @Dr Minako for more health tips. If you are a cancer fighter or survivor and are interested in immunotherapy, come visit us at the Tokyo Cancer Clinic.

The information provided here is meant for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be nor should be construed as medical advice.

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