The magazine I held shook violently as I hid my reddening face and the tears springing from my eyes. The quiet of the local library was broken by my stifled squeals and muffled snorts. My stomach hurt and I had trouble catching my breath. The more I tried to calm down, the faster my tears flowed and the harder it was to be inconspicuous. Some people looked at me and giggled (is it that funny to watch someone fighting with such strong emotions behind a magazine?) Others wouldn’t look at me at all (that woman must be “losing it” or in dire need of her medication). My husband even pretended he didn’t know me.
Sounds like I was having a rough time that afternoon, doesn’t it? Shaking, tears, squeals, snorts, knotted stomach, out of breath. All the outward signs of angst. Truth is, I was reading a humor publication that sent me into hysterics. I experienced uncontrollable laughter that only got more uncontrollable with my attempts to stop it. Once the ten minutes of overt mirth was over, I sat back and reveled in the post-laughter bliss that left me both happy and relaxed. My stomach muscles pleasantly ached, my lungs felt clearer, my heart rate gradually returned to normal, and a smile remained on my face for hours. What a workout! What a rush! And it all happened because I took the time to pick up the funnies.
Do you know you really can laugh yourself healthier?
Though you don’t need a scientist to tell you that a hearty chuckle makes you feel better, a growing body of research indicates that laughter truly is great medicine. Even better, it is free, it needs no prescription, and it is always readily available. To boot, laughter is infectious, which means you can help others get healthier, too.
Laughter is like exercise
Having a good laugh can be called “internal jogging,” providing an aerobic workout for your lungs, diaphragm, and respiratory muscles. One hundred laughs is equivalent to ten minutes on the rowing machine. Like traditional exercise, “internal jogging” boosts your endorphin levels and gives you a humor-evoked high. Laughing also works your torso muscles and can tone your stomach as well as deliver a type of muscle massage that lowers blood pressure.
Comedy boosts the immune system
One of the most profound rewards of laughter is its powerful effect on the immune system. Laughing bolsters the levels of T-cells (the body’s infection fighters), Gamma-interferon (disease-fighting proteins), and B-cells (associated with anti-inflammation and production of disease-destroying antibodies). Research suggests that laughing can reduce pain, lower the risk of heart disease, ameliorate cancer symptoms and has favorable effects on blood sugar. More research is warranted but it doesn’t hurt to laugh, anyway.
Studies suggest that people dealing with pain or illness benefit from laughter both physically and emotionally. Norman Couins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, cites that patients suffering with chronic pain have been able to sleep pain-free for two hours merely from engaging in laughter. Humor can also be a natural distraction from pain. Being able to laugh not only gives hope to patients, it also gives them feelings of superiority and power over their illnesses.
Belly laughter busts stress
Stress is a killer. It elevates cortisol and other stress hormones, wrenches your gut, imprisons your thoughts, and holds you back from enjoying life. Chronic stress is also damaging to your immune system and overall health. Conversely, laughter relieves tension, boosts endorphins, lowers cortisol, and reduces the levels of epinephrine and dopamine, all of which promote health. The next time you can’t shake your angst and you can’t exercise your typical stress busters, find the means to revel in a comic roar.
Laughing brings us closer
Laughter clubs are popping up all over the world, bringing people together for the sole purpose of laughing. Regardless of where you are, laughing is a worldwide language reflecting happy emotions and warmth. Laughing is universally understood and can aid in breaking down social barriers. It can also encourage effective communication skills and productive teamwork in families, sports, or work situations.
Your mind and emotions are undeniably tied to your physical well-being. Laughter is an irrefutable method of self-care, one that you can use every day, preferably numerous times throughout each day. Pick up the funnies, rent a comedy, get together with people who have a knack for hilarity, or simply reminisce on comical moments in your past. Don’t hold back, laughing is good for you, and it’s good for others, too.
By Michele Thompson, MS
Michele Thompson, MS is a Balanced Living Specialist and freelance writer who promotes healthy lifestyles through the integration of body, mind, and spirit.