4 Health Benefits of a Good Laugh
We all know how it feels after a good belly laugh. But did you know you can reap serious health benefits in the process?
According to health psychologist Grace Tworek, PsyD, “There’s a lot of literature that shows that Americans these days are more or less living in a ‘fight or flight’ response. Evolutionarily, that’s not what we’re made to do. Fight or flight is our natural stress response that allows us to run away from a saber-toothed tiger. It’s supposed to be short-lived. But the stress that many of us are living with day to day is triggering that response continually.”
According to research, long-term activation of the sympathetic (“fight or slight”) nervous system can lead to a higher risk for health issues such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.
On the other side is the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system, where the relaxation response comes from. Things like deep breathing, exercise, and laughter can help signal your nerves to calm down and give your stress response a break. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system can have health benefits for the whole body.
According to Dr. Tworek, some of the health benefits include:
- Stress relief— “Letting out a good laugh makes you feel more relaxed because it disarms your nervous system,” Dr. Tworek says.
- Stronger social bonds—Sharing fun times and laughs with friends and family is one way that humans, who are social creatures, can create bonds with others and build community.
- More oxygen in the body—Laughter increases oxygen to the body, which in turn lowers the heart rate and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Heart health—Preliminary research has suggested that laughter can decrease stress hormones, reduce artery inflammation, and increase HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Laughter can lead to a healthier heart by increased blood flow and fewer stress hormones, and may reduce the risk of heart attack.
To start reaping the benefits of a more relaxed state, make time for things that make you happy, which is called “behavioral activation.” “It means planning and scheduling things for yourself that you normally would enjoy. Sometimes, when we’re stressed, it can feel like we don’t have time for pleasure. We put our happiness at the bottom of the list. But it’s doing things we enjoy that will relieve the stress more than completing that long list of things we feel we have to do,” Dr. Tworek explains.
Regular self-care, exercise, and meditation can have a similar calming effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. Laughter can be the best medicine, so give your nervous system a break and incorporate more joy into your life.
Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Why laughing is good for you. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-laughing-good-for-you