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Play to laugh

Posted April 06, 2020 by Joseph D Varley, MD

Laughter is what the doctor ordered when it comes to stress relief.  Science shows laughter may very well be the best medicine when it comes to relieving stress — and that’s no joke. Whether you’re howling at a TV sitcom or giggling at your friend’s joke, the positive effects from laughter on body function — from increased circulation to muscle relaxation — confirm that real, sincere, happy laughter is good for you!

With April being National Humor Month, Summa Health dives deep into the science behind laughter and stress relief.

Laughter can actually create a physical, measurable change in your body. Laughter can up your intake of oxygen-rich air and stimulate your heart and lungs, while increasing blood circulation and easing muscle tension, soothing the physical symptoms of stress.

Not to mention, a good bought of laughter is good exercise. It gives the heart and abs a “workout” by burning almost as many calories as walking at a slow or average pace. Exercise relaxes your body and mind, while improving your mood. In fact, physical exercise has been proven to play a key role in preventing and reducing the effects of stress.

Laughter also can make it easier to cope with difficult situations by improving your mood. It’s been shown that laughter triggers the release of endorphins in your brain. High endorphin levels make you feel happier, while also combatting the hormones associated with stress.

In fact, laughter is really only the tip of the iceberg.  The fundamental activity actually is “play.”  In elegant studies focusing on the neuroscience of emotion, Jaak Panksepp demonstrated that “play” is actually a very deeply embedded circuit in our brains and we share that circuitry with all mammals.  Think of little cubs or puppies playing.  It’s an intrinsic part of life.  He showed that lab rats enjoyed being tickled and they “laughed” as part of that play (google “rats laugh when you tickle them”).  So, laughter is just the crowning joy of a natural experience we all are capable of when we suspend our critical nature and step back and find some pleasure and enjoyment through connecting.  Did you hear the one…..

Incorporating more laughter into your life

So for your health’s sake, it’s time to incorporate more laughter into your life. Here are 5 easy ways to do so:

  • Find a way to laugh at your own situation and you’ll soon find it helps to alleviate stress.
  • Because you need another reason for a Netflix binge — watching shows, movies or comedy specials is one of the easiest ways to incorporate laughter.
  • Frequent comedy clubs or online joke sites. You could also Google “dad jokes” for a fun afternoon pick-me-up.
  • Spend more time with family and friends who make you laugh.
  • Find a laughter yoga class to practice with others. The laughter may feel forced at first, but it could turn into spontaneous laughter.

Joseph D Varley, MD

Behavioral Health Institute


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