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Everyone has heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine,” but is it really true and, if it is, how does it work?
Everyone—or hopefully everyone—at some point in their life has had a time with family or friends when you’ve just laughed at something (perhaps you don’t even remember what it was when you look back at the moment that got you started in the first place) that kept you laughing and once the moment subsides you lie or sit there breathless and feeling 100 times better than you did before. Scientists have actually been able to determine why that is.
The Effects of Laughter
A good, hearty laugh can do the following:
• Relax the whole body by relieving physical tension and stress for up to 45 minutes
• Boost the immune system by decreasing stress hormones
• Make you feel good and temporarily relieve or decrease the perception of pain by releasing endorphins
• Improve heart function and increase blood flow, which can help prevent heart attack and other cardiovascular problems
Researchers have been able to show that even the anticipation of a good laugh can lower stress and boost the immune system.
The Science of Laughter
When the body is under stress it reacts with a “fight or flight response” and increases cortisol levels in response.
Cortisol plays an important role in regulating blood sugar and producing energy, and in the body’s ability to protect itself from and fight off infections, viruses, illnesses and healing. Increased levels of cortisol are linked with weight gain - particularly around the abdomen - accelerated aging, and gastrointestinal ulcers.
Cortisol increases when stress increases. It doesn’t really matter if the stress is real or imagined, physical, envirommental, chemical or otherwise. The body is basically put on full alert and focused only on survival. It puts all other physiological responses on hold, including inflammatory responses which would normally protect the body from infections and bacteria. Since healing requires energy, this process is also stopped and the energy diverted to survive.