“I won’t mess with a person that works out, because somebody with that kind of time on their hands could really screw you up!” – Chili Challis

As health and fitness professionals, we encourage our patients and clients to eat better, exercise, get more sleep and limit stress on the road to better health. We focus so much on our physical well being, that we often overlook our mental and emotional well being.

The World Health Organization defined health as a “state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or bodily infirmity”.5

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Daily stress has been known to negatively impact health2,3, by releasing stress hormones, increased blood pressure, etc. Which often results in decreased immune-system function and subsequent illnesses.1

There has been quite a bit of research on the study of laughter “gelotology” and its effects on health2 and recent research suggests that an overlooked but very important tool in being healthier is a good sense of humor.

Mark Ridley, owner of the world famous Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, has said “In 36 years of doing this, people always say that it makes them forget about their problems for 90 minutes”. So as a health/fitness professional and budding standup comedian, I urge you to not underestimate the health benefits of laughter.

The process of laughing

Laughing is such a natural thing, that we don’t even think about it when we do it. However, laughter is a very coordinated event in our body, and Mirthful (genuine) laughter is often boisterous and vigorous in its physical behavior.4

If you have ever laughed hard at something, you may have noticed that you may be breathing harder, your heart is going faster, contracting the muscles, flushing of the skin, etc. Kind of sounds a lot like exercise doesn’t it?

For good reason too, as facial, respiratory and laryngeal muscles are all recruited for laughter production, leading to a change in lung volume and dynamic compression of the airways3, while your core muscles contract and act as stabilizers keeping your body from falling over.

Laughs are produced by contraction of the chest walls, especially the diaphragm, forcing air through the vocal tract and often followed by a deep inspiration of air.3

Ever laugh really hard and have the muscles of your core feeling sore? That’s your body getting a workout, which happens to be one of the many health benefits of laughter.health-benefits-laughter_2

Physiological effects of laughter

The stages and effects of laughter are very similar to the stages and effects of exercise. The arousal phase where the heart rate is elevated (exercise) and the resolution phase where the heart is resting (post workout).2

Research has demonstrated that bouts of laughter have minimized the negative effects of stress by reducing the breakdown of nitric oxide in the body, and thus, leading to relaxation of the arteries (vasodilatation).2,3,4 

Moreover, while bad stress shows an increase in stress hormones (cortisol) which leads to artery constriction, spikes in blood pressure, etc. Laughing demonstrated a decrease in these hormones, fortified activity of killer cells, reduced muscle tension, increased oxygenation of blood, exercising of the heart and endorphin production1,2,3,4

Researchers have also shown that since laughing is so physical in nature, it does burn some calories.

A study conducted at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, demonstrated that genuine voiced laughter causes a 10-20% increase in energy expenditure and heart rate above resting values.

Which means that, depending on an individual’s size, 10-15 minutes of laughter per day could lead to burning 10-40 extra calories.3 Considering that a typical live comedy show runs about 90 minutes, that is a potential 240 calories that you could burn just by laughing.

In conclusion

While we can all agree that exercise is the best medicine for many things, research demonstrated that supplementing some humor into exercise routines and life in general can have a profound effect on the body.1,2,3,4 

Although laughter cannot replace exercise or other forms of intense physical activity, its production should not be discounted in the total balance of energy3 and should be considered a compliment to any regular exercise program,.

Joel Fragomelli, a Detroit based comedian, stated that he has never seen crowds leave the clubs unhappy, but agrees that humor is subjective and not everyone finds the same things funny.

That’s why as trainers or clinical specialists, it is important that we really understand our clients and/or patients medically, physically, and mentally.

If you do make it a point to laugh 10-15 minutes a day, that could be up to 14,600 calories a year or about 4lbs. So go see a funny movie, or better yet, go to a live comedy show. To quote Monty Python “Always look on the bright side of life”. How many of you just sang that in your head?:)

So, just like exercise, a little bit of daily laughter can go a long way.

References

1. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. (2010, April 26). Body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 9, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426113058.htm
2. Hasan, H., & Hasan, T. F. (2009). Laugh Yourself into a Healthier Person: A Cross Cultural Analysis of the Effects of Varying Levels of Laughter on Health. International Journal of Medical Sciences6(4), 200–211.
3. Buchowski, M., Majchrzak, K., Blomquist, K., Chen, K., Byrne, D., & Bachorowski, J.-A. (2007). Energy expenditure of genuine laughter. International Journal of Obesity (2005)31(1), 131–137. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803353
4. Miller, M., & Fry, W. F. (2009). The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on the Human Cardiovascular System. Medical Hypotheses73(5), 636. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.02.044
5. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.

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