Laughter Rx: Discover 5 Surprising Health Benefits of Laughter

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Laughter is the best medicine. You’ve probably heard that piece of advice before. But is it true?

Research shows a chuckle, good laugh, or even a knee-slapping-laugh-out-loud joke or movie can be good for your health in more ways than one.

Check out these 5 surprising health benefits of laughter.

The laughter-as-medicine experiment

What would you do if doctors told you there was no cure for your condition and you didn’t have long to live?

It’s a sobering thought. But the late journalist and educator Norman Cousins wasn’t about to give up on living his best life when he heard the news.

At the age of 35, he was diagnosed with heart disease and a painful and terminal form of arthritis. His prognosis didn’t look good.

But he realized he had a choice…Give up hope and die or laugh it off and keep going. Cousins chose the latter.

He came up with his own treatment plan that included watching episodes of Candid Camera, slap-stick comedy by the Marx Brothers, and funny movies.

Humor became a regular part of his life to help manage his condition. And it made a difference.

He lived to be 75 years old. He wrote a book about his experience called, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, and gave new meaning to the phrase “laughter is the best medicine.”

Cousins may be one reason researchers took an interest in learning more about the health benefits of laughter, which include:

1. Reduce heart disease

Did you know heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States? It claims the lives of about 610,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What’s one of the major health benefits of laughter? Research shows it can help lower the risk for heart disease.

In a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that people who laughed every day were significantly less likely to develop heart disease or stroke, compared to those who didn’t laugh at all.

Other ways to reduce heart disease risk include regular exercise, a healthy diet, and, weight management.

2. Lower stress

Everybody experiences stress from time to time. A bad day at work. A troubled relationship, Family matters. Financial problems. Or a traumatic life event.

But when stress becomes a chronic problem, it can wreak havoc on your body and your health.

Some people cope with stress in unhealthy ways with alcohol, gambling, shopping, drugs, or food.

But there’s another way…laugh more.

In a study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, researchers found that regular bouts of laughter may help reduce stress and improve mood by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol and releasing endorphins in the brain that reduce pain and increase happiness.

Looking for other ways to manage stress? Try yoga, daily meditation, journaling, online therapy for anxiety, exercise, and herbal supplements.

3. Improve Cholesterol

How’s your HDL (good) cholesterol level? If you don’t know, ask your doctor for a simple blood test to find out. It’s a biometric that can be used to identify your risk for heart disease.

The higher your HDL cholesterol level the better (60 mg/dLor higher is ideal). Good cholesterol helps remove harmful forms of cholesterol in your body that can block arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke.

So what’s one way you can improve good cholesterol levels? Laugh. In a study published in the Federation of the American Societies of Experimental Biology journal, researchers found that laughing can help increase good cholesterol levels and lower the risk for heart disease and inflammation.

More ways to manage cholesterol: You can also improve cholesterol levels by eating more foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids like fish, nuts, and seeds, and by eating more foods high in soluble fiber.

4. Lower blood pressure

How’s your blood pressure? If it’s 120/80 or above, it’s elevated, high, or worse. Did you know about of all adults have elevated or high blood pressure.

It’s a major risk factor for heart disease, kidney disease, and other health problems. It’s one reason health professionals measure your blood pressure at every visit.

So how do you control blood pressure?

  • Stay away from high-sodium foods like burgers, fries, pizza, processed meats, and canned soups.
  • Exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes a day
  • Maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight if you need to
  • Eat more plant-based foods
  • Avoid or limit alcohol
  • Don’t smoke, or quit if you do
  • Manage stress in healthy ways

And there’s at least one more way to control blood pressure…laughing. In study published in the Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research, laugh therapy and medication helped patients improve blood pressure more than medication alone.

5. Improve Quality of Life

If you thought these were the only health benefits of laughter…wait for it…there’s more. Laughter research is still an emerging field of study. But researchers believe laughter may also help reduce anxiety, strengthen the immune system, help treat depression, and even burn extra calories.

Tap into the health benefits of laughter

Need an excuse to watch a funny movie, go to a comedy show, share funny jokes, or read a laugh-out-loud book? No joke, it’s good for your health.

This post was written by Evan Jensen, a copywriter for the wellness platform company FitLyfe.

Marc is the creator of Mindful Searching, a content site dedicated to providing actionable, unbiased tips to reduce anxiety, stress, and improve cognitive performance. He's struggled with social anxiety for many years. Over the last 5 years, Marc has been researching and testing lifestyle changes, products, and techniques to build a happier, healthier, anxiety-free life.