Curiosities: Is it true that laughing is good for your health?

November 24, 2009

Indeed, says Robert McGrath, a clinical psychologist specializing in mind/body wellness at University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and for many reasons.

“Humor results in a general decrease in stress hormones. Vigorous laughter temporarily increases the heart rate, benefits the immune system, increases alertness, and exercises skeletal muscles. Levels of epinephrine and dopamine decrease as a response to humor and laughing,” he says.

The physical effects actually resemble those of a good workout, McGrath adds. “There is an increase of endorphin levels, the body’s natural painkiller.”

Laughter is often used to help survive difficult situations, McGrath says, and it has many positive but indirect long-term benefits, including increasing the sense of well-being, making pleasant connections with others, managing stress, and increasing creativity.

The benefits of laughter extend after the chortling, chuckling and guffawing ceases, he adds. “Following extended laughter, there is a brief period during which blood pressure lowers and heart rate decreases.”

Laughter, indeed, is the best medicine. “And if you are not ready to start your day with a full dose of this great medicine, just smile,” he adds. To stay healthy and happy, McGrath prescribes 30 minutes of exercise, 15 minutes of humor, and 15 minutes of smiling meditation.