All Joking Aside, Laughter Is Healthy for You
by J’Nel Wright
Why did the chicken cross the road? It doesn’t matter as long as it’s funny. Not only does a good gag make us giggle, experts say laughter is actually good for our health. If you are debating between downloading the latest chick flick versus a comedy classic, here are four reasons why you should go for the humor.
According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, the immediate benefit of a hearty chuckle is that it increases oxygen intake, which stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles. And it also activates endorphins that release tension and soothe anxiety.
The long-term benefits include a stronger immune system. “Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity,” confirm experts at the Mayo Clinic. “In contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.”
Mental-health experts presently recognize the short-term relief of a hilarious session of amusement, but studies also show that laughter bolsters social connections. “A heightened level of social bonding can lead to longer-term feelings of inclusion and the creation of support networks,” says HuffPost contributor Ryan Barrell. “Both are key elements in the fight against depression.”
Gelotology, or the study of laughter, explores the influence of merriment from both a psychological and physiological perspective, and the results can have a serious impact on personal and professional settings. Ellen Cote, CEO of Park Avenue Health and Rehabilitation in Tucson, Arizona puts it simply: “Laughter and simple kindness are two of the most effective mood boosters I’ve seen. The tone of the work environment plays such an important role with our staff. While our nurses and therapists focus on the needs of our patients, it’s also important for managers to offer positive feedback and support to ensure people feel appreciated, supported, and welcome at work. As busy as it often gets around here, we always have time to laugh.”
A study conducted at Loma Linda University tracked the influence humor had on learning ability and delayed recall by dividing 20 adults into two groups: one group sat silently and did not communicate with each other while the other group watched funny videos. The comedy group experienced almost a 50-percent improvement in learning and memory function and experienced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The study’s conclusion states: “The study’s findings suggest that humor can have clinical benefits and rehabilitative implications and can be implemented in programs that support whole-person wellness for older adults.”
What’s better than laughing alone? Laughing as a collective group, of course. “Even in the hardest of times, laughter has a steadfast ability to bring people together,” according to Medical News Daily contributor Honor Whiteman. And those connections benefit treatment, as well. As Cathy Hefko, RN, BSN., director of community outreach at Golden Acres Living and Rehabilitation in Dallas, Texas, says, “The social and family connection in a rehabilitative environment has proven to be very important. Research shows that patient outcomes depend on it! Without these connections, rehab outcomes will not be as good.”
So when the mood arises for a jocular outburst, chortle, titter, or guffaw—go ahead and laugh. It’s good for you.
J'Nel Wright is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in topics concerning health and wellness, aging, caregiving, humor, travel and business. Her work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications. Her educational background includes a bachelor's degree in English and Social Work. She has traveled throughout Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, French Polynesia, Mexico and much of the United States. She is a full time writer.