Have you laughed at all today? Do you know the last time you laughed? How about laughed out loud. LOL. How about laughing while watching a great TV show? Can you even remember the last time you laughed? Catherine Kalamis, in “Laugh Your Way to Health” (Choice magazine, March 2001), said that a 10-minute bout of laughing can have the following effects:
- As the person laughs, carbon dioxide is driven out of the body and replaced by oxygen-rich air, providing physical and mental freshness.
- Laughing can produce anti-inflammatory agents that can aid back pain or arthritis.
- Laughing encourages muscles to relax and exercises muscles all over the body, from the scalp to the legs.
- Laughing reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
- It is also thought that laughter may possibly aid immune system responses, (though the evidence for that is primarily anecdotal).
- Laughing exercises facial muscles to prevent sagging.
- Laughing boosts the production of “feel-good” endorphin hormones.
A study performed at the University of Maryland noted that laughter seems to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels to relax or expand, increasing blood flow. Mental stress, on the other hand, causes the opposite effect: making vessels constrict, and thus reducing blood flow. That finding confirms earlier studies that suggest a link between emotional stress and the narrowing of these linings, called the endothelium.
The endothelium is the layer of thin, flat cells that lines the interior surface of blood vessels. Endothelial cells line the entire circulatory system, from the heart to the smallest capillary. In small blood vessels and capillaries, endothelial cells are often the only type of cell present. Endothelial cells are involved in many aspects of vascular biology, including:
- Vasoconstriction and vasodilation, and hence the control of blood pressure
- Blood clotting (thrombosis and fibrinolysis)
- Formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis)
- Inflammation and swelling (edema)
Just anticipating a chuckle or guffaw can keep you healthy and reduce stress. In another study, people who knew in advance that they would be watching a funny movie had elevated levels of growth hormone and more beta-endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals that block pain and help you relax). And these levels held steady throughout the hour of viewing as well as afterwards, for up to 24 hours. A mere 30 minutes of comic relief may be all you need for similar health benefits.
So go ahead, laugh often and out loud. It's your -- and your friends', family's, and cronies' -- best medicine.