Good health isn’t just about eating right and exercising and staying on top of your annual check ups. Good health is also about being happy.

Have you heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”? Well, there’s some truth to that. Laughter is an important part to living a healthy life.

Science is finding there are real benefits of laughter. Some researchers think laughter just might be the best medicine, and that laughter may help you feel better. A true belly laugh might be good for you!

While there’s some evidence that laughter my help boost your immune system, overall research results have been mixed.

In the last few decades, researchers have studied laughter’s effects on the body and turned up some potentially interesting information on how it affects us:

• Blood flow

Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. After the screening, blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally — expanding and contracting easily. On the other hand, people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.

  • Immune response

Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response, says Dr. Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland. Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells.

  • Blood sugar levels

One study of people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels compared to the lecture.

  • Relaxation and sleep

Provine says that the most convincing health benefit he’s seen from laughter is its ability to dull pain. Numerous studies of people in pain or discomfort have found that when they laugh they report that their pain doesn’t bother them as much.

A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, though we wish they could. Hospitals would be much happier places!

Data is mounting, though, that laughter can bring positive outcomes. You can see some of those effects immediately. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughing brings in oxygen-rich air that stimulates your organs and increases endorphins. Plus, it cools down your stress hormones. That’s why you always feel so relaxed after a good laugh.

In the long term, laughter is important, too. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your immune system.

We know stress is bad for our immune system and makes us gain the most unhealthy types of weight. Conversely, positive thoughts actually release something called neuropeptides (small molecules that help different parts of our brain communicate) that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.

The effects of laughter and exercise are similar. Laughter even burns calories! Nowhere near as much as exercise, but a good laugh with friends for one hour could burn about 50 calories. Not too bad, right?

So how can you incorporate more laughter into your life?

Are you afraid you have an underdeveloped — or non-existent — funny bone? Don’t worry. Humor can be learned. In fact, developing or refining your sense of humor may be easier than you think.

Here’s a few tips to get you chuckling and working towards a healthier you:

  • Watch a funny movie.
  • Read the comics in the paper, and when you find one that makes you laugh, hang it in your home or office.
  • Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress fade. Even if it’s forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
  • Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh.
  • Hang out with kids. They’re always good for a laugh.

With all of this being said, laughter is not the end-all to great health, no matter how much we wish it was. Laughter is important, though. A “healthy” sense of humor can contribute to physically healthy bodies.

Science is proving that our moods have physical outcomes in our health. Hearty laughter is the crucial component in the humor-health connection; humor and amusement without laughter would not be expected to provide any benefits. Even forced laughter may be expected to have beneficial effects.

So go laugh. Get engaged in the moment and laugh it up. Laughter really is some of the best medicine!

Kristi Passey is the director of Vienna Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. The Healthy Lodi Initiative team is compiling local resources and helping to connect employers with tools to work toward improvement. For more information about the Healthy Lodi Initiative, please visit www.healthylodi.com or call the Chamber at 209-367-7840.

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