As children we tend to laugh a great deal, sometimes up to 400 times a day. When we get to adulthood, responsibilities and pressures can sometimes harden us, making us more serious and solemn.
So what are the physiological benefits of laughter? Well, when we laugh, we exercise our muscles, get blood flowing, decrease our blood pressure and stress hormones, improve sleep patterns and boost our immune system1.
'Psychoneuroimmunology' is the study of how emotions affect our nervous and immune systems. It is still a relatively new area of research, but the insights are promising.
Researchers at California's Loma Linda University 2 set out to find out if laughter can deliver measurable health benefits.
The study looked at 20 healthy older adults in their 60s and 70s, measuring their stress levels and short-term memory. One group was asked to sit silently, not talking, reading, or using their mobile phones while the other group watched funny video clips.
After 20 minutes, the participants gave saliva samples and took a short memory test. While both groups performed better after the break than before, the "laughter group" performed significantly better when it came to memory recall. Participants who viewed the funny videos had much higher improvement in recall abilities, 43.6 percent, compared with 20.3 percent in the "non-laughter" group.
The laughter group showed considerably lower levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, after watching the videos. The non-laughter group's cortisol levels decreased just slightly.
Laughter could possibly be as good for you as taking a vitamin, who knows? More research is still needed, but why not start to include laughter as part of your health regime? Here are a few things to think about:
- Incorporate some laughter into your day - after a stressful day at work, why not put on your favourite comedy series and have a good hearty laugh, or watch some funny YouTube clips?
- Try to see the funny side - there usually is one! Sometimes we can get so serious about things that in the grand scheme of things, don't really matter that much..
- Surround yourself with people that uplift you - we tend to have that one friend, colleague or family member that can cheer us up and make us smile. Resolve to spend more time around those people that make you feel good.
- Go to a comedy night - just as you set aside time to go to the gym, why not set aside one evening a month to go to a comedy night?
Laughter helps you feel both physically and emotionally healthy. As Nicolas Chamfort once said, perhaps 'a day without laughter is a day wasted'.
1 Is Laughter the Best Medicine? Humor, Laughter, and Physical Health http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/11/6/216.short