10 Serious Health Benefits of Laughter

They say that laughter is the best medicine. While it certainly isn't going to cure any major ailments, laughter can, in fact, improve your chances of keeping them at bay and alleviate them quicker if you've fallen ill. (See also: 25 Healthy Changes You Can Make Today)

Laughing at that? Then read on as health experts weigh in on the benefits of laughter, some of which may surprise you.

1. Reduces Stress

When you're overwhelmed by stress, find a reason to get your chuckle on, says certified holistic health coach Francesca Alfano. "Your body responds positively to a good laugh both emotionally and physically," she says. "Laughing activates your stress response by reducing the level of stress hormones such as cortisol, leaving you with a good relaxed feeling. It also can stimulate a physical release by aiding in muscle relaxation. I recommend my clients go out and watch a funny movie, go to a comedy show, or simple ways to find humor in everyday life [when they're stressed]."

2. Burns Calories

According to Canada's Best Health magazine, "laughing for 10 to minutes raises energy expenditure, increases heart rate and can burn up to 40 calories." Just don't mistake this benefit as a way to combat those large fries with a shake. Dr. Maciej Buchowski, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, warns that you shouldn't consider humor's affect on your ability to burn calories a weight-loss method. "People can't eat at McDonald's and then expect to laugh their lunch away," he tells Best Health.

3. Helps Us Breathe Better

Did you know that there's such a thing as laughter yoga? It's totally legit, and there are awesome benefits to it, the best of which is helping to keep the lungs healthy. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga (yep, that's a thing, too), "Hearty extended laughter helps to provide longer exhalation, thus ridding the lungs of residual air, which is then replaced by fresh air containing a higher level of oxygen. The secret to breathing deeper is to exhale more fully. Laughter empties your lungs of more air than it takes in resulting in a cleansing effect. This is especially helpful for people who are suffering from respiratory ailments, such as asthma."

4. Lowers Defenses

Got your guard up? If it's affecting your outlook on life, start laughing more. Licensed marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar says, "Laughter, when genuine, is a form of joy and creates happy feelings within the system and body. Laughter serves your mental health by enhancing more positive outlooks on life and in turn creates better coping mechanisms overall due to the defenses being lowered." She provides a caveat, however, of which we should be conscious and careful: "Laughter can also be a mask for feelings; that is the cautionary."

5. Improves Cardiovascular, Respiratory, and Skeletal Muscular Health

Allen Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor and Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, tells us three ways that laughter positively affects different systems of our bodies.

Cardiovascular Health

"Heart rate and blood pressure go up [when you're laughing]. When you stop laughing, they go down again. Very much like what happens when you do aerobic exercise," he says.

Respiratory Health

Klein explains, "When you laugh you take in and breathe out large amounts of air. Thus your lungs get a workout and you get more oxygen in your blood, which carries oxygen to your brain helping you to think better."

Skeletal Muscular Health

"We all know the expression 'fall-down laughter' — when we laugh so hard sometimes that we can hardly stand up," he says. "Laughter is a great muscle relaxer. Sometime we even laugh so heartily and relax our muscles so much that we 'pee in our pants.'"

6. Expels Aggressive Impulses

When you have the urge to lash out — and who doesn't from time to time? — it's best to take a step back and lift your spirits through laughter. Dr. Fran Walfish is a leading couples relationship and family psychologist and regular on-camera contributor to NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams. She says, "Laughter relaxes the body and releases stress. It also is an acceptable healthy expulsion of aggressive impulses. The sound that is vocalized can be paralleled to a scream. There is a release. The trigger for laughter is often a helpful distraction to daily worries and concerns. This is an added benefit. Studies have shown that laughter reduces certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline."

7. Positively Affects the Creative Process

John Morreal, founder of the International Society for Humor Studies, says, "Humor loosens up the mental gears. It encourages out-of-the-ordinary ways of looking at things." Dr. William Fry, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, echoes that sentiment. "Creativity and humor are identical," he says. "They both involve bringing together two items which do not have an obvious connection, and creating a relationship."

8. Has Benefits Similar to Meditation

A laugh-out-loud situation is pretty much the opposite of quiet, no-interruption meditation, but it turns out that they have similar benefits for the body. Lee Berk, associate professor of pathology and human anatomy at Loma Linda University, said in an article on Time.com that "joyful laughter immediately produces the same brain wave frequencies experienced by people in a true meditative state." Certified laughter wellness instructor and laughter yoga leader Noreen Braman has found this claim to be accurate. "Going all the way back to Norman Cousins, (author of Anatomy of an Illness), we know that laughter brings pain relief — and I am living proof of that," she says. "I have had fibromyalgia for many years, and since 2010 I have been finding pain relief through laughter, especially when I am leading a group in contagious laughter exercises."

9. Boosts the Immune System

As I detailed earlier, laughter benefits specific areas of the body but it also helps boost the immune system as a whole. HelpGuide.org says, "Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease."

10. Works Out Your Abs

This is a benefit I can get behind if it means I can spend less time in the gym. Laughter can help tone that the dreaded midsection: "When you are laughing, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, similar to when you intentionally exercise your abs," explains writer E.C. LaMeaux. "Meanwhile, the muscles you are not using to laugh are getting an opportunity to relax. Add laughter to your ab routine and make getting a toned tummy more enjoyable." Totally on it!

How does laughter benefit you? Please share in comments!

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