By John Salak –
Who knows if laughter really is the best medicine. A couple of major research centers, nonetheless, claim it can do the mind and body a world of good. A few daily chortles may even help trim unwanted pounds.
It may be hard to imagine, but the simple act of laughing for 15 minutes daily burns up to 40 calories. That may not seem like much. Yet it can add up. Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in fact, reports that depending on a person’s size, an individual can trim one to four pounds a year from just a quarter-hour of giggling every 24 hours. Vanderbilt researchers weren’t the only ones to underscore the body-sculpting benefits of laughing. The International Journal of Obesity came to a similar conclusion.
The simple act of laughing actually holds up well against a range of seemingly more energetic activities. Admittedly, 15 minutes of biking, jogging, skiing and dancing all burn significantly more calories, but 900 seconds of laughs compares favorably to gardening (68 calories), shooting pool (42 calories), shopping (40 calories) driving (34 calories) and typing (25 calories).
Why Calories Burn
These reports may strike some as funny (pun intended). Science and research, however, back up these conclusions.
Laughing effectively causes an individual’s heart rate to increase 10 to 20 percent, which in turn triggers a rise in metabolism. Higher metabolism rates are the key to weight loss. Not only does this increase cause the body to immediately burn more calories, but it also generates an extended impact to lead the body to continue using up excess calories even after the fun subsides.
“Laughing actually does burn calories,” the American College of Healthcare Sciences (ACHS) reports. Yet the benefits don’t stop there. The ACHS and others claim regular giggles can boost immune systems, calm muscles, relieve stress, reduce physical pain and lower blood sugar levels. In effect, it generates a mini aerobic workout that among other things that give stomach muscles a workout and cause the chest to rise and fall.
In fact, just anticipating a good laugh can trigger benefits. The American Physiological Society reports that simply anticipating laughter preps the brain to feel happier. “So, it becomes happier by default,” the society explained. The brain even responds positively to fake laughter, it adds.
Other than possibly looking a bit goofy, ACHS maintains there a no negative side effects to laughter. The bonus to laughing is that added benefits are not just numerous, they’re significant.
Laughter apparently is a pain balm thanks to its ability to release endorphins, which increases the pain tolerance. A University of Oxford study reported that watching just 15 minutes of a comedy show increased pain tolerance of participants by about 10 percent. Admittedly, the show has to be truly funny to work.
While perhaps hard to image, one research project discovered that women undergoing vitro fertilization were 16 percent more likely to get pregnant when entertained by a clown than those who did not have the clown encounter. Don’t ask.
Improves Heart Health
Laughing is good for the heart because it increases oxygen in the blood and boosts heart rates. It can also reduce arterial wall stiffness, which can cause cardiovascular disease.
Jolts Immune System
A good guffaw is a great way to strengthen an immune system because it helps release anti-infection antibodies.
Reduces Stress & Relaxes Muscles
Some research indicates that laughter helps regulate cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. This apparently occurs because laughing brings more oxygen into the body, stimulating circulation that lessens the level of cortisol. Enhanced circulation also helps to reduce muscle tension for up to 45 minutes.
Maybe least surprising is that people who laugh regularly are generally less depressed and lead happier healthy lives.
The Funny Limits
For all the tangible feelgood benefits laughter brings, it is not a cure-all for what ails everyone, especially if people think they can laugh their way to significant weight loss. In releasing his landmark study on laughing and weight loss, Dr. Maciej Buchowski acknowledged that in some ways this research is less significant than his past work.
“This is a trivial study,” he stressed. But he admitted that the findings resonated with a wide audience, making the report more important than it might other seem. “People just understood this, it’s something that they relate to themselves.” Nonetheless, Buchowski warned that “people can’t eat at McDonald’s and then expect to laugh away their lunch.” Yet he quickly added “every calorie counts” and chuckling can help support weight loss.
Learning to Laugh
Humor is absolutely subjective so what’s going to generate belly laughs in one person may not encourage even a smirk in another. But research indicates individuals can position themselves to laugh more.
Falling in love with their own laugh is one way. Others include looking for humor everywhere, hanging out with funny people and bringing laughter into the workplace, while not risking personal employment.
Questions, admittedly, remain over how laugher compares to other remedies. But a healthy, regular dose of giggles certainly can’t hurt.