Who hasn’t been the recipient of the age-old, slightly trite, but oft repeated axioms and well-meaning advice about how to maintain and improve their health?
“Milk, it does a body good.”
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
But if you’re lactose intolerant or not a fan of buying apples that have spent weeks in transit, these aren’t viable options.
Many people agree that a dose of sunshine, a walk in the woods, a few hours fishing, or a day at the beach provide a welcome relief from stress. But if you’ve just left a meeting that’s raised your blood pressure, the boss may not look too kindly on a “nature break” – and let’s face it, nature (and schedules) don’t always cooperate. Add in seasonal allergies and nature time becomes stressful sneezing time.
If you find yourself clenching your teeth or hunching your shoulders and you need a quick stress-buster, consider this free, easy alternative: laughter.
How Humor & Laughter Affect the Body’s Physiology
Stanford University’s Dr. William Fry outlined the method by which your body processes something you find funny – by creating a relationship between two disconnected things and engaging the brain.
First, your ears hear a joke, and about ½ second after exposure, an electrical wave moves through the cerebral cortex’s higher brain functions. Next, the left hemisphere analyzes the words and sentence structures, transmits the analysis to the right hemisphere which processes and “gets” the joke. The occipital lobe’s visual sensory area creates the images then picked up by your limbic (emotional) system, and that system activates the “happiness” hormones, like the endorphins. Your brain’s motor sections kick in, and giggles and guffaws fill the air.
Laughter: The Best Medicine
Laughter’s the perfect health hack because it doesn’t require any equipment, a special place, or a scheduled time, and best of all, your body can’t distinguish between fake or real laughter. Laughter offers a whole host of positive long- and short-term benefits for your brain, breathing, and body!
Laughter provides a full-scale workout for your muscles and releases stress-busting endorphins, so give yourself permission to laugh off that annoying client or find the humor in two household appliances dying within a week of each other. You’ll push away some of that stress and improve your overall health, too.
Still not convinced? The Mayo Clinic offers multiple reasons to justify indulging in a daily hearty laugh – or two. A jolly good laugh induces positive short-term and long-term physical and mental changes in your body. A deep belly laugh:
- Increases your air intake, stimulating your lungs, which pump more blood to your heart, and so your heart gets a great, cardio workout. Did you know that indulging in a laugh session gets your heart pumping enough to burn about the same amount of calories in an hour as a slow or moderate walk around the neighborhood?
- Provides a holistic way to lower your blood pressure, which reduces your risk of a stroke or heart attack.
- Stimulates your body’s circulation and encourages muscle relaxation, which also reduces stress symptoms.
- Improves your body’s immune system by releasing stress-busting and illness-fighting neuropeptides, boosting the T-cells and gamma-interferon immune system cells just waiting for their cue to activate.
- Decreases stress hormones, like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, which serve their purposes but can also put your health at risk especially when they’re elevated for long periods of time. Keeping your body in a constant fight-or-flight state causes many other cascading issues including anxiety, depression, heart disease, sleep issues, weight gain, and memory/concentration impairment. Laughter cancels that state.
- Offers a painless workout for your stomach, diaphragm, leg, back, and facial muscles and respiratory system. Let’s face it – it’s much more fun to get a toned tummy while watching your favorite sitcom, right?
- Increases alertness, creativity, and memory – the three areas often negatively affected when long-term stress floods your body’s system with stress hormones, especially cortisol, which many scientists call Public Enemy Number One.
Here are some suggestions to help you incorporate a daily dose of laughter into your life:
- Watch a funny show or movie
- Read a humorous book
- Find funny videos online
- Host a game night
- Seek out silly or satirical websites like The Onion, Engrish, Cake Wrecks, or Damn You Autocorrect
When your funny bone’s been tickled and you’re laughing so hard that you can’t stop crying and your sides hurt for days, you’ve given yourself a great dose of stress-busting medicine.
Want another quick way to find calm? Try a FREE guided meditation from Spire.