No Joke! Laughing Has Serious Health Benefits.

It’s hard to argue that laughing is infectious – tell me you didn’t at least giggle while watching that video. It’s also hard to argue that after a good “laugh fest,” you feel better – both physically and mentally.  Did you know the effects of laughter and exercise are very similar?  This is where you say something like: “Is this some sort of joke? Does laughter really provide health benefits that are similar to exercise? ” According to the new field of “gelotology” – the study of laughter and its effects on the body – it sure does!

This is good news people, and for some, maybe that’s all you need to know – laughter has health benefits.  After all, if we enjoy laughing, that’s likely reason enough to continue to laugh.  But, if you are like me, curious about how something as great as laughing can provide health benefits similar to exercise, then put a smile on your face and read on.

Laughter experts, (is that an awesome job or what?) Dr. Lee S Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan, were among the first to discover that laughing helps maximize many functions of various body systems.  One of the key findings of their study was that laughter optimizes hormones in the endocrine system, including decreasing the levels of cortisol and epinephrine, which leads to stress reduction.

Cortisol is a key hormone when it comes to exercise and weight loss, and “less is better.”  Cortisol is a “catabolic” hormone, which means that it breaks tissue down (as opposed to building tissue up the way testosterone, growth hormone and insulin do.)  We all know that consuming too many calories and not exercising regularly lead to weight gain, but there are other factors that can make weight loss more difficult.  One of those factors is high cortisol, largely from chronic stress.  If something as simple and enjoyable as laughter has the ability to decrease cortisol levels, start your “LOL” prescription immediately.

Decreasing stress is definitely a shared benefit of laughter and exercise, (unless you are exercising too long – it’s no coincidence that a Koko Smartraining strength workout is only 30 minutes,) but the comparisons don’t stop there.

Blood Flow:
When we laugh, our pulse and blood pressure go up, we breathe faster and send more oxygen to our muscles and organs.  That increased level of oxygen in our blood gives us more energy.   Similarly, exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And, when your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily routine.

Immune Response:
As we discussed already, laughter decreases stress, which in turn, improves the functioning of our immune system.  Some studies have shown that laughing and the ability to use humor raises the level of infection-fighting antibodies and boost the level of immune cells.  Laughing also increases the response of tumor and disease killing cells, such as T-cells, and defends against respiratory infections by the immunoglobulin created in saliva.  In the same vein, exercise can boost your immune system by providing a boost to the cells in your body that are assigned to attack bacteria.


Calorie Burn:
Last, but not least, laughing burns calories! When you laugh, you are giving your diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles a light workout.  Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing.  Mr. Buchowski concluded that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.  (Imagine the effect I could have on the calorie burn for Koko Cardio if I worked in a stand up routine…)
While those 50 calories are a nice bonus and add up over time, don’t skip today’s workout because you watched “Bridesmaids” last night.  One piece of chocolate has about 50 calories.  At the rate of 50 calories per hour, losing one pound would require 12 hours of concentrated laughter. The world record for non-stop laughter, held by Belachew Girma, is 3 hours and 6 minutes.  That said, some interesting fitness trends have emerged that combine exercise with laughter; check one of them out here – you won’t be disappointed (but you may decide my Koko Cardio stand up routine isn’t such a brilliant stroke of genius.)

So my friends, as contrary as it sounds, humor and laughter should be taken seriously when it comes to the impact they have on our health and wellbeing.  After all, this “medicine” is fun, free, easy to use and doesn’t require a prescription.  Since laughter pre-dates speech by perhaps millions of years, we can conclude that laughter the most ancient of medicines still being used today.

I hope that every mile of your journey is filled with the wonderful sounds of laugher, that you find humor in as many situations as you can, and that you take the time to stop and laugh with the people you care about the most.

Laugh more…live better!

Michael Wood, CSCS
Chief Fitness Officer
Koko FitClub
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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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