The Best Medicine: What Are the Benefits of Laughter?

By Tiffany Chaney

The phrase “Laughter is the best medicine” is a colloquial variation of a biblical passage from Proverbs (Chapter 17, verse 22): which reads that “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Many sacred texts, from spiritual texts to philosophical ones, contain words of wisdom to help us reflect in times of need. However, a healthy life means one also filled with laughter.

But is laughter the best medicine, and if so, can it really reduce stress and improve your health? Science says, “Yes.” Here are a few of the top benefits of laughter.

1. Improves the Likelihood of Getting Pregnant in Those Experiencing Infertility

Women undergoing in vitro fertilization had 16% better chances of getting pregnant when entertained by a clown than those who didn’t entertain encounters from clowns, according to a 2011 study. The results were published by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in Fertility and Sterility. The researchers recommended further exploration of medical clowning as a therapeutic aid for women receiving IVF treatments.

2. Relieves Pain

A good bout of laughter releases endorphins, also known as a “happy hormone.” Aside from joy, endorphins can also raise pain tolerance.

A 2011 study had participants watch 15 minutes of comedy as a group. Their pain tolerance raised by 10% following laughter compared to before, and those who watched the comedy alone, their pain tolerance increased by slightly less than 10%. The findings were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

3. Benefits the Heart

According to researchers at the University of Texas, mirthful laughter can benefit the heart by reducing the stiffness of artery walls, which is linked with cardiovascular disease. It also increases your heart rate as the level of oxygen rises in the blood. 

4. Boosts the Immune System

Laughing has an “anti-infection property” as it increases antibodies that help protect the body from infection from viruses and other threats. St. John’s Health recommends more laughter to help improve the immune system if socially isolated during the pandemic for this reason.

5. Soothes Muscles and Stress

The stress hormone cortisol helps your body manage its blood sugar, reduce inflammation, trigger the fight or flight response, and oversee its metabolism. However, cortisol also has somewhat of a bad reputation when too much is released when you’re stressed—which could lead to binge eating and increased weight gain, among other unwanted symptoms.

According to the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, laughter can calm stress and regulate cortisol since it increases your oxygen intake. This stimulates body circulation and reduces cortisol levels. In turn, the circulation also relieves the stress in your muscles as your body relaxes.

Why Do We Laugh When We’re Nervous?

Interestingly, some people also unconsciously begin to laugh as a response to emotional stress or anxiety. Psychology Today describes nervous laughter as an adaptive behavior or psychological trigger that may be treated with yoga and other mindful practices. However, it can also be linked with autism and certain health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism.

From stress relief to pain relief, laughter has a myriad of health benefits to offer the mind, body, and soul.

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