Laughing is healthy: it has been scientifically proven that the cerebral cortex releases electrical impulses within a second after starting to laugh, expelling negative energy from our body. We all love to laugh, but its benefits go far beyond just making us feel good. Laughter improves our health.
Babies start laughing around four months of age. Experts say that for every 10 minutes of conversation, people laugh about 7 times. Laughter is an evolutionary strategy that allows us to establish deeper social connections, a way that humans have of showing good intentions to other people.
But laughter is not something unique to humans. In fact, chimpanzees also produce sounds that fulfill the same social function, although different from ours. For all primates, laughter makes us feel part of a group and helps us to show that we feel comfortable in a specific environment.
We laugh at all hours. Sometimes for stories, jokes, tickling, and even as a protection strategy against tense situations or for events that in theory are not “funny” but that activate our sense of humor.
But is that in addition to the clear social component of laughter, did you know that laughing has multiple benefits for both physical and mental health? This article HEALTHY and FITNESS will review the effect of laughter on your body.
WHAT IS LAUGHTER?
Laughter is a psychophysiological response that originates in our thoughts and emotions, after perceiving something in our environment or even something that we imagine, as funny. It is a reaction that begins in our mind, but the effects it produces end up affecting the rest of our body, as we well know from experience.
WHY DO WE LAUGH?
We humans laugh at absolutely anything. Each person is made to laugh in certain situations because laughter is closely linked to the brain, and each of us undergoes a different brain development throughout life. Similarly, the brain also determines how often and how hard we laugh.
But what is it that makes us laugh?
We laugh because the brain triggers a cascade of hormonal reactions that end with a feeling of well-being in our body and that activate a series of muscles in the rib cage. In the brain, laughter activates the hippocampus (memory center) and moves towards the amygdala (the center of emotions), then set in motion the area of the cortex -which is destined for the processes intellectuals- and from there to the area of the brain that activates the smile or laughter (acombicnucleus). This depends on the state of mind, personality, or the absence of psychological disorders.
Let’s see it in parts. When we are in our day-to-day activity or we listen to a story, the brain makes assumptions about what is going to happen next. If everything goes according to plan, nothing “strange” will happen within us. But the moment something happens that we perceive as an incongruity, something out of the ordinary and that, whether rationally or irrationally we interpret as “funny”, the brain rewards itself by producing dopamine.
Dopamine is a hormone that, once released by order of the brain, travels through our blood vessels. Its production occurs not only for funny moments, but also when eating, having sex, doing sports, and ultimately, everything that is “pleasant” to us. Either way, once dopamine is circulating through our body, it begins to change our physiology so that we feel good. For this reason, it is known as the “happiness hormone”.
One of the effects that dopamine has is that it modulates the activity of the muscles of the rib cage. Literally, dopamine causes the muscles of the chest to contract, which translates into pressure in the lungs that ends with the gasps, screams, choking or snoring typically of everyone’s laughter.
Laughter is born from the pressure on the chest muscles that causes dopamine to flow through our body. The sound of laughter does not come from the mouth or the throat. You just have to stop and realize that when we laugh, there is no movement of the tongue or the lips as there is with the rest of the sounds we emit. Everything happens in the rib cage.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF
We have already seen the social meaning of laughing and what reactions occur in our body that leads to emitting the sounds of laughter. But perhaps one of the most important and at the same time underrated factors of laughter are the benefits it has for our health.
Sigmund Freud attributed to laughter the power to free the body of negative energy, something that has been scientifically proven when it was discovered that the cerebral cortex releases electrical impulses a second after starting to laugh.
But unfortunately, as we grow and gain maturity, we lose the spontaneity of letting ourselves be carried away by laughter, or even seeing the positive and comic side of things. Hence, there are times when it is convenient to remember how to laugh. There are therapies for this, known as laughter therapy. In fact, in recent years the term “laughter therapy” has been established, which consist of using laughter as a tool that seeks to improve people’s mental and emotional health through activities and exercises that encourage them to laugh.
What Is Laughter Therapy?
The laughter therapy is a way to learn to see things from the positive side to get the most outgrowths to life and work, as well as an easy way to improve health through pleasurable emotions.
More than 4000 years ago, in the Old Chinese Empire, there were some temples where people met to laugh, in order to find a balance for health. In ancient tribal-type cultures, there was the figure of the “clown doctor”, a wizard dressed and makeup, who applied laughter therapies to heal sick warriors.
There are many effects of laughter that we know or may seem intuitive to us, but it also brings us many benefits that we do not know about and may even surprise us. In
fact, that is the basis of laughter therapy.
Health Benefits of Laughing
It is that not only does it improve our mood, but it also has positive effects on physical health in many different ways. Next, we will see the main benefits that laughing has for the body.
1. Lowers Blood Pressure
Laughter has positive effects on the entire cardiovascular system as it is capable of lowering our blood pressure. Despite the fact that while we laugh our heart rate increases and, therefore, our blood pressure increases, when we relax the opposite effect occurs.
When you stop laughing, the walls of the blood vessels “loosen”, which leads to an improvement in blood circulation and, consequently, a reduction in blood pressure. Laughing, in the short term, reduces anxiety and reactivity in people, which lowers blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease.
Therefore, laughing is a good strategy to prevent hypertension and reduce the risk of suffering from all kinds of cardiovascular diseases, which represent the main cause of death in the world.
2. Oxygenates the Body
As we have said, laughter occurs inside the rib cage. Laughing makes the muscles of the lungs work much faster during the time that the laugh itself lasts. When we are laughing, the amount of air pumped through the lungs triples, by expanding the pulmonary alveoli three times more than during normal breathing. With each inhalation more oxygen is absorbed and, in addition, as the heart rate is higher, it is achieved that the organs and tissues receive more oxygen than normal. Therefore, laughter enhances the respiratory capacity and improves the oxygenation of our body, including the vital organs.
3. Burns Calories
During the act of laughing, more than 400 muscles of the body are mobilized, moving intermittently through contractions and relaxations, something like a spasm. This produces the toning of the muscles and, together with the increase in blood flow, makes laughter a great aerobic exercise. Laughter is, almost, another form of sport. In fact, it is estimated that with about 100 laughs, the same calories are burned as doing 15 minutes of cycling. This, in addition, is linked to a subsequent muscle relaxation that contributes to the well-being that laughing gives us. Laughing can help us stay in shape and, in addition, it works muscles that are normally more inactive.
4. Boost The Immune System
The hormonal changes that occur in our body while we laugh could have a stimulating effect on the immune system. Recent studies show that laughter could enhance the production of antibodies and the general activity of the cells of the immune system, that is, it can make us more resistant to the attack of pathogens.
In fact, a whole field of research has been created a few years ago to study the relationships between emotions and physical health, which has been called “psychoneuroimmunology”. This stems from the discovery of the large number of connections that exist between the central nervous system (which is our brain and spinal cord), the endocrine system (responsible for releasing hormones), and the immune system (which is responsible for producing antibodies to fight against diseases). Laughter can make our body more effective both by detecting bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, etc. and by initiating processes aimed at neutralizing and eliminating them from the body. This would make us less sensitive to getting sick.
One of the conclusions that have been drawn is that a positive state of mind protects against diseases, even when exposed to them, and improves the prognosis of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and asthma.
5. Reduce Stress
The brain is connected to the endocrine system that is responsible for the secretion of hormones. When you laugh, one of the effects that occur is the reduction of the
hormone called cortisol, known as “stress hormone”, which is responsible for both stress and other low moods. Laughter can make us reduce our stress levels. In fact, it even has analgesic properties, which means that it makes us more resistant to pain. When we laugh, the brain emits an order that causes the secretion of endorphins, substances that have properties similar to morphine, relieving pain, providing a balance between vital tone and depression.
6. Improve Memory
Laughing can improve our memory in the sense that, the events that happen while we are happy and especially when laughter is involved, our brain has more emotional ties that encourage us to better remember what we have lived. Laughter and humor in general increase the number of connections that our brain makes while it “learns.”
7. Boost Creativity
Laughter is located in the prefrontal area of the cerebral cortex, where creativity resides, and the ability to think about the future. Due to both the effects on oxygenation of organs (including the brain) and the reduction of stress hormones, as well as the chemical and hormonal processes that occur within us, people who laugh more frequently tend to have, according to different studies, the most active properties linked to creativity in the brain. Laughter improves brain health, making it more active. Combat fears and phobias, as well as shyness, by facilitating communication between people, expressing emotions, and favoring the existence of affective ties. Laughter alleviates suffering, in addition to releasing the tension, enhancing creativity and imagination.
8. Lowers Cholesterol Levels
When we laugh, our body stimulates the production of lipoproteins, molecules that circulate in the blood and that helps lower the levels of “bad” cholesterol. This, together with the reduction of blood pressure, contributes to a correct cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of suffering from all kinds of pathologies linked to the obstruction of blood vessels.
9. Produces Endorphins
When we laugh, our brain stimulates the production of endorphins, which are hormones linked to the feeling of well-being. Laughter makes us happier and the more we laugh, the more our mood will be enhanced. This, together with the reduction of stress hormones, makes laughter strengthen our mental health, making us feel fuller of vitality and face the future more optimistically. The effects on hormones of this type last even up to an hour after you have laughed.
10. Increase Collagen Production
Collagen is an essential protein for the body that is present in many different organs and tissues, as it provides resistance, flexibility, and elasticity. When we laugh, its production is stimulated. And this is directly linked to a reduction in the signs of aging, as the health of the skin is promoted.
11. Facilitates Digestion
The vast majority of the muscles involved in the act of laughing are found in the face and in the abdominal area. In fact, many of those that are activated in this area when laughing can only be activated in this way. This abdominal movement favors intestinal transit, facilitating digestion. In addition, it helps reduce constipation since it enhances the correct functionality of the intestines.