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Laughter is the Best Medicine

By Helen Hunter, ACSW, LSW
 
(Page 1 of 3)

When was the last time you had a really good laugh?
 
The scientific definition of laughing is a “successive, rhythmic, spasmodic expiration with open glottis and vibration of the vocal cords, often accompanied by baring of the teeth and facial expression”. That doesn’t begin to tell the story of what laughing does for us, however. The bottom line is that laughing is medically beneficial.
 
Laughter establishes or restores a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people. In fact, some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together – the more social a person is and the more social support a person receives, the more likely that laughter will result from that social connection. Mutual laughter and play are an essential component of strong, healthy relationships. By making a conscious effort to incorporate more humor and play into your daily interactions, you can improve the quality of your relationships.
 
What are the Physical Effects of Laughing?
 
Laughing makes people feel good for a reason. Studies have shown that laughter boosts the immune system and triggers the release of pleasure-inducing neurochemicals in the brain. The immune system, which contains special cells that are responsible for defending the body against infection, have been shown to increase during the act of laughing. In the central nervous system, the brain releases powerful endorphins as a result of laughing. Endorphins are natural, morphine-like compounds that raise the pain threshold, produce sedation and induce euphoria (commonly called a “natural high”). In other words, we feel better when we laugh because endorphins reduce physical and mental pain. While this may be a wonderful feeling, laughing has other benefits as well:
 
During a laugh, respiration, heart rate and blood pressure temporarily rise. This causes oxygen to surge through the bloodstream that then results in lower blood pressure.
 
Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
 
Laughter reduces pain and allows toleration of discomfort.
 
Laughter reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and non-diabetics alike.
 
Laughter relaxes the whole body, relieving tension and stress. It has been shown that following a good, hearty laugh, muscles in the body are relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterward.

 

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