Laughter Found to Create Health Benefits Similar to Those of Exercise

Several scientific studies have found that laughter and a sense of humor produce many health benefits, some similar to those derived from exercise.

Studies by Loma Linda University Schools of Allied Health and Medicine

According to studies conducted by Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University’s Schools of Allied Health and Medicine, and his colleagues, repetitive “mirthful laughter,” which they call “Laughercise©”, was found to cause responses in the body similar to those caused by moderate physical exercise. Their studies found that “Laughercise© enhances your mood, decreases stress hormones, enhances immune activity, lowers bad cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, and raises good cholesterol (HDL),” as reported by ScienceDaily.

In a more recent study, the same scientists found that after watching a humorous video, a group of study subjects experienced changes in levels of leptin and ghrelin, the hormones that control appetite. “Specifically, the level of leptin decreased as the level of ghrelin increased, much like the acute effect of moderate physical exercise that is often associated with increased appetite,” as reported by eScienceNews.

In this study, the researchers measured the hormone levels of 14 volunteers over a three-week period before and after they watched a funny or distressing video clip. Participants who watched the humorous video experienced improvements in their blood pressure and hormone levels, while those who watched the distressing showed no significant change.

According to the scientists, this research suggests that patients who cannot engage in exercise may be able to reap similar benefits from laughter. This may be particularly helpful for elderly and frail patients, who cannot withstand the rigors of physical exercise.

Laughter may also help Elders suffering from loss of appetite, in regaining their appetite, according to the researchers. They concluded that laughter may have beneficial effect in the treatment of appetite loss and “wasting disease” that is common in elderly patients.

Previously, Dr. Beck and the Loma Linda University researchers, as early as 2006 had reported on a study in which they found that even anticipation of laughter could have the same positive effects on the body as are associated with exercise. In that study, presented to the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), they found that “endorphin and human growth hormone levels rise in expectation of an upcoming positive experience—that is, even before the event occurs.” Their study subjects experienced these changes while waiting to view a video that they had selected and expected to be humorous.

The researchers concluded that the anticipation of laughter lowers stress hormones, boosts the immune system, and improves cholesterol and blood pressure, results that are similar to those produced by moderate exercise.

In reporting on Dr. Beck’s research, Loma Linda University said, “New research suggests that, much like exercise, scheduling humor into your day could be beneficial to your health. Loma Linda University researchers have demonstrated that the simple anticipation of a scheduled positive experience, like humorous events, can initiate positive changes in neuroendocrine and stress hormone response. In other words, looking forward to a happy experience may be good for you.”

The report referred to Dr. Beck’s earlier research, saying: “Loma Linda University researchers previously have demonstrated that during a humorous laughter event, there is increased secretion of growth hormone and decreased secretion of epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. When secreted chronically due to stress, epinephrine and cortisol can be detrimental, while growth hormone appears to optimize specific aspects of immunity.”

According to Dr. Beck, “The physiological effects of a single one-hour session viewing a humorous video appear to last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in different individuals, while other studies have shown that a daily 30-minute exposure can produce profound and longer-lasting changes in these measures.”

Study by University of Maryland School of Medicine

In another study, conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, researchers found that laughter is linked to healthy function of blood vessels.

After the study subjects watched a portion of a movie that produced laughter, they experienced increased blood flow. “Laughter appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, to dilate or expand in order to increase blood flow,” the researchers reported. When the same group of study volunteers was shown a movie that produced mental stress, their blood vessel lining developed a potentially unhealthy response called vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow.

According to the researchers, that finding confirmed previous studies that suggested there was a link between mental stress and the narrowing of blood vessels.

Recent Norwegian Study

A more recent large study, conducted by Professor Sven Svebak and his colleagues at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Department of Neuroscience, found that “A sense of humor helps to keep people healthy and increases their chances of reaching retirement age,” according to a report on this study.

The Norwegian study, entitled “A 7-year prospective study of sense of humor and mortality in an adult county population: the HUNT-2 study,” was published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, and is available from PubMed Central, U.S. Library of Medicine, NIH.

The Norwegian researchers reviewed responses to a public health survey gathered from 53,500 individuals living in Northern Norway, including their responses to a “Sense of Humor Questionnaire (SHQ)” designed to measure their sense of humor. According to Dr. Svebak, the questions revealed a person’s ability to understand humor and to think in a humorous way. The subjects were followed up after seven years, to measure their health and survival rates.

The researchers found that those who had the highest scores on the sense of humor test were twice as likely to survive the seven year period of follow-up than those with the lowest scores. These results were strongest among the younger members of the study population, with the correlation somewhat weaker among those over 70 years of age, when other biological issues of aging may have started to counteract the positive health effects of humor.

“This gives us reason to maintain that sense of humor has a real effect on the health until people reach about 70 years old,” Dr. Svebak said.

Other Studies

Previous studies have found many other health benefits arising from laughter. In a review of the scientific literature, “Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes,” published by PubMed Central of the U.S. Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Mary Payne Bennett of Indiana State University and Cecile Lengacher of the University of South Dakota reported on numerous other scientific studies, which included findings that laughter may:

  • Produce positive “changes in muscle tone,” and lead to “changes in respiratory function;”
  • Lead to “increased heart-rate, respiratory rate and oxygen consumption, similar to changes seen with aerobic exercise;”
  • Result in reports of decreased anxiety during a “stressful waiting period;”
  • Result in a decrease in the stress hormones, “cortisol, growth hormone, and plasma dopac, a metabolite of dopamine;” and
  • Through a decrease in cortisol, an immunosuppressive hormone, potentially enhance immunity.

With all these benefits, it may, after all, be that laughter is one of the best natural and free medicines.

For More Information:

Listen to this Audio track from NPR with Dr. Beck, the author of the Loma Linda Studies »

And, see this Video by TODAY about the Loma Linda University studies and other information on how laughter helps physical health.

See also, this Video on WebbMD, maintaining that, “laughing heartily 100 times a day gives the same cardio results as working out for 10 minutes.” This accompanies WebMD’s article, Give Your Body a Boost — With Laughter: Why, for some, laughter is the best medicine.

See also, our resource pages on:

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