laughterIt may not be a cure-all, but according to a study by cardiologists, there is scientific proof that laughter may help prevent heart disease. In Laughter is Good for Your Heart, Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, writes “The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart. We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the actual act of laughing has specific short and long-term physical benefits. In Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke, Mayo Clinic staff write, “A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.”

Short-term health benefits of laughter:

  • Stimulates many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins (the feel-good hormones) that are released by your brain.
  • Activates and relieves your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothes tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Long-term health benefits of laughter:

  • Improves your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts can release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieves pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  • Increases personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  • Improves your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

But laughter and having a sense of humor are not the same thing. While laughter can result in an immediate physical health benefit, studies have found that just having a sense of humor is good for mental health and can help people cope with difficult aspects of their lives.

In Laughter is the Best Medicine, published on the website, Science Daily, the work of Melissa B. Wanzer, EdD, professor of communication studies at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, is described. Dr. Wanzer conducted studies that looked at how humor helps medical professionals cope with their difficult jobs, and how health professionals who work with terminally ill patients handle coming to work each day. Without exception, she found that those who used humor to manage life’s stresses were in better overall health and reported greater satisfaction with their lives and jobs. Dr. Wanzer also studied how humor affects the health of the elderly, finding that “aging adults who used humor more frequently reported greater coping efficacy, which led to greater life satisfaction.”

Most of us have moments (or even longer periods of time) when we may feel anxious or stressed. So next time you notice those feelings creeping up, try thinking of a funny story, movie, or joke. You can even find opportunities for laughter by taking a look at yourself! Studies show that people who see humor in the world, and who can laugh at themselves, are healthier and happier than those who can’t. A good laugh (or even a funny thought) can help us view our situation in a different light, reduce anxiety or stress, and strengthen the bond between ourselves and others. Plus, it’s good for the heart!