When was the last time you laughed or watched a funny movie? If it’s been a while, you may want to make humor a regular part of your life again, as it’s been shown to have several health benefits. Interestingly, humor need not be the kind where you’re constantly doubled over from a case of the giggles; studies show that being privately amused, smiling for no reason or even simply anticipating laughter can help. Here’s a closer look at the top five ways in which humor is beneficial to health.
1. Relieves stress
Laughing or having humorous thoughts tends to keep stress levels at bay, which in turn leads to positive emotions that not only boost mood, but also promote relaxation and lower blood pressure. In fact, researchers from California’s Loma Linda University found that cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) decreased when they assessed older adults who watched humorous videos. Meanwhile, this study showed that those who were not exposed to such videos did not enjoy nearly as dramatic a reduction in cortisol levels.
2. Improves heart health
According to experts at the American Heart Association, the benefits of laughter linger long after that last funny moment—for upwards of 24 hours, to be exact. The Association maintains that heart health in particular can suffer without a sense of humor, pointing to studies indicating that people who suffer from heart disease are 40% less inclined to laugh. Researchers have also discovered that certain personality traits prompt such disease more than others; those ruled by anger or who possess hostile tendencies are less likely to laugh or appreciate moments of levity, and are therefore more apt to have heart disease.
Dr. Steinbaum, an attending cardiologist and director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City has suggested that laughter should be prescribed as one aspect of a heart disease prevention plan. “I wonder,” she said, reflecting on the studies associating humor and improved heart health, “if we can say to people that laughter is a little bit like a medication for you.”
3. Enhances pain tolerance
While a joke won’t eliminate the need for all healthcare professionals, research shows that the pain associated with certain health problems is better tolerated when humor is involved. For example, experts found that humor played a role in patients’ post-surgery recovery process. One study found that those exposed to funny one-liners prior to being given a potentially painful injection after surgery were not as likely to perceive pain as intensely as the patients who were not told jokes.
4. Strengthens immune system function
Dwelling on major life setbacks (or even minor daily disruptions) can weaken your immune system and lead to a longer recovery time when faced with a cold or illness. In fact, two hormones associated with diminishing depression and boosting immunity—both important factors in maintaining good health—increased as much as 87% among people exposed to funny videos.
In another instance, an Arkansas Tech University study discovered that fifth graders who participated in a humor program had increased levels of Immunoglobulin A and were therefore better able to fight off invading infections.
5. Improves memory
The aforementioned Linda Loma University study that established a link between laughter and lowered stress levels also found that study participants who watched funny videos had better memory recall than those who did not. The latter not only didn’t watch smile-inducing videos, but they were not allowed to engage with others or even use their cell phones. Ultimately, those who watched the humorous videos performed much better on short memory tests; their recall ability was 43.6% compared to the mere 20.3% of those in the non-humor group.
So go ahead and laugh it up! If nothing strikes you as funny right now, take a few minutes to recall a humorous memory that’ll at least put a grin on your face. Browse through pictures to remember a favorite event or perhaps a funny situation that developed during that time. Look at funny faces that perhaps some zany friends have posted on social media, or make some of your own right now. Wherever possible, surround yourself with people who appreciate telling a good funny story, or simply watch a silly YouTube video. Your health will thank you for it!