Healthy Living Magazine
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by and

“Knock, knock!” What’s good for your health and costs only a smile? No joke, the answer is laughter!

“We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps, regular hearty laughter should be added to the list.”
— Michael Miller, M.D.

From your heart to your immune system, the health benefits of laughter extend far beyond a good mood. Researchers have found that laughter can reduce tension, depression and anger. Amazing things can happen when you laugh. In addition to releasing mood-elevating chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, a good belly laugh can trigger an immediate physiological response: your heart rate increases, your blood vessels expand and you take in more oxygen. Laughter also has many social benefits; it is a great icebreaker and plays an important role in intimate relationships. Undeniably, laughter is a universal language that connects people together and it can be contagious! Want to put a little mirth in your mood? Read on to learn how to bring more laughter into your life and reap the amazing health benefits of a good giggle!

Since research supports that there are many health benefits of laughter, it makes a lot of sense to lighten up! According to the Mayo Clinic, an undisputed authority on health and wellness, laughter has both short-term and long-term health benefits. Laughter has the power to do more than just lighten your mood. Since a good belly laugh enhances the intake of oxygen-rich air, it stimulates your organs, including your heart, lungs and muscles. Endorphins released by the brain after a good chuckle can act as the body’s natural painkiller. Laughter reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and dopamine and increases health-enhancing hormones and infection-fighting antibodies.

Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, all of which do wonders to reduce physical symptoms of stress and increase resistance to disease, not to mention an improved mood and positive outlook!

The American Cancer Society has a webpage dedicated to humour therapy for patients interested in a more modern and unconventional approach to dealing with illness. Although the organization admits there is no scientific evidence to support that laughter can cure cancer or any other diseases, it can play an important role in helping patients cope with their physical pain and emotional stress.  Although more studies are needed to clarify whether laughter may make its way into the mainstream as an effective treatment for disease, we know that it has many benefits for patients undergoing treatment, including influencing positive physiological changes, reducing stress and increasing sense of well being.

One doctor, who believes that laughter is the best medicine, is Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai. Dr. Kataria is the founder of the Laughter Yoga Clubs movement that has grown from one meeting in a park in India in 1995 to over 6000 Laughter Yoga Clubs in 60 countries today. A cardiologist, Dr.Kataria, who in researching the benefits of laughter, found several studies to support profound physiological and psychological advantages of a good giggle! Laughter Yoga Club became a way he could deliver these benefits to his patients and others.

Marjorie Moulin, a certified Laughter Yoga Leader and co-founder of the Richmond Hill Laughter Yoga Club, trained with Dr.Kataria and offers laughter workshops to corporations and to the public in York Region. The Laughter Yoga Club has been in operation for six and a half years and now has five hundred joyful members! Instead of waiting for a condition to laugh such as a joke, a funny movie or stand up comedy routine, Laughter Yoga uses exercises, tools and silly scenarios to promote laughter! “The body doesn’t know if laughter is fake or real. It’s so silly, but it becomes contagious!” says Marjorie. After regularly attending class an average of four to five times, Laughter Yoga practitioners begin to discover the inner spirit of laughter and what at first may feel forced or fake becomes a natural response.  

There are numerous benefits to Laughter Yoga according to Marjorie. “Laughter Yoga teaches people to be playful,” she says. “Also, stress causes 70-80% of our diseases. Normally, we only use one quarter of our lung capacity, but in Laughter Yoga the idea is to breathe deeply which oxygenates our lungs. In turn, we exhale carbon dioxide, reduce cortisol levels, resulting in a reduction in stress,” says Marjorie.

“Another benefit of Laughter Yoga is that it brings people together,” she says. Yoga means “to connect” and when you combine laughter and yoga you have a magically unifying practice. Laughter is especially important in intimate relationships. “The body uses different hormones for happiness than for anger, so what happens is that laughter diffuses anger,” says Marjorie. “It’s great for couples,” she adds.

Laughter is great for bringing people together, because it is a language shared by all humans. A study led by Professor Sophie Scott at The University College London, comparing British test subjects and people living in an isolated part of Namibia in south west Africa, supports that basic human emotions such as happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise and the sounds associated with the expression of these emotions are universal. One positive sound that was particularly well recognized by both groups was laughter. Subjects from both cultures agreed that laughter signified amusement, exemplified by the feeling of being tickled. Laughter may be a universal language shared not only by humans but also chimpanzees and other mammals, which also laugh when they are tickled. Interestingly, this suggests that laughter has deep evolutionary roots, possibly originating as part of playful communication between young infants and mothers.

So if you want to reap the many benefits of laughter, including reducing stress, connecting with others, becoming more joyful and playful and improving your overall health, perhaps making a commitment to Laughter Yoga is the right thing for you. The best advice Marjorie says she can give to others is, “don’t wait for a condition to make you laugh,” she says. “Children laugh on average 300 times per day and are naturally joyful. In contrast, adults only laugh on average four times per day. Laughter Yoga is a commitment to make laughter happen,” says Marjorie.

If you are looking for other ways to improve your underdeveloped funny bone, take heart because humour can be learned and practiced in many other ways. Try posting photos or comic strips at home or at the office or keep funny movies or comedy tracks on hand for a quick chuckle.” Try to find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch as others share a laugh at your ability to be self-deprecating. As the old saying goes, “laugh and the world laughs with you!”

Neuroscientist Sophie Scott decided to prove this adage, so in another study on laughter, her findings supported that laughter is in fact contagious. “We’ve known for some time that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behavior, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. Now we’ve shown that the same appears to apply to laughter, too, at least at the level of the brain,” says Scott. As with Laughter Yoga, learning to laugh may feel forced at first, but if you continue to practice laughing, it not only becomes more natural, but it becomes contagious and soon you’ll find others around you responding with a smile or a chuckle, too!

Tiffany Moffatt is a certified Personal Trainer Specialist, Fitness Instructor Specialist, Pre and Postnatal Specialist (Canfitpro certified) and freelance writer who has worked in the fitness industry for 25 years. tiffanysbeyourbest.blogspot.com

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