Reap the many health benefits of a good laugh

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Most people have heard the adage that “laughter is the best medicine.” There are many indications that laughter can be beneficial to the mind and body, and that the perks of laughter and humor are far-reaching.

Various professionals have studied the clinical benefits of laughter, including Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan at Loma Linda University in California. Here is what these experts say in regard to the benefits of a few good belly laughs.

Boosts immune system

A 2016 study titled “The Laughter Prescription” and published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that the amount of laughter a person experiences is related to the immune system’s ability to fight off infections, among other benefits. The study references additional research that indicated spontaneous (not forced) laughter boosts the immune system by increasing natural killer (NK) cell activity. Levels were measured after participants watched a one-hour humorous video. NK cells are lymphocytes with a unique ability to kill a broad spectrum of cancerous and virus-infected cells, according to the National Institutes of Health. Laughing out loud improves immune system function and increases heart rate and oxygen levels.

Lowers blood pressure

Individuals who laugh often have lower blood pressure than those who laugh less often. Lower blood pressure reduces the risk for stroke and heart attack.

Helps heal the brain

Laughing can help reverse symptoms of grief or depression by increasing the pleasure-enhancing neurochemicals in the brain, according to the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. A good laugh also may help people recovering from chronic illnesses by helping to alleviate fear and anxiety that could otherwise preoccupy the mind.

Suppresses stress hormones

Drs. Berk and Tan found that the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol decrease following laughter. Laughter may help people feel less stressed and overwhelmed.

Provides a small body workout

Hearty laughter can exercise the diaphragm, contract the abdominals and even work the shoulders and muscles in the face. Laughter also gets the heart pumping at a rate that burns a similar amount of calories per hour as walking slowly.

Provides natural pain relief

Research suggests that laughter decreases inflammation that may contribute to pain. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that laughing also increases blood flow, which may help to reduce pain as well.

Finding ways to laugh more is an easy and fun way to improve overall health.