Feeling stressed and need a good workout, but can’t make it to the gym today? No worries — just have yourself a good laugh.
Laughing won’t tone your thighs or shape your buttocks, but it can stimulate your heart, lungs and several other muscles, many studies show.
Laughter also reduces stress by releasing endorphins to the brain and stimulating your circulation to relieve tension, reports the Mayo Clinic.
After what might be called belly laughter — an exhilarating giggle session where you simply can’t regain your composure until you are physically exhausted — afterward you probably felt as if you’d completed an energetic aerobic exercise session.
During, and shortly after your fit of mirth, you may have felt your stomach muscles tighten and then stretch and relax, your heart speed up, and tears stream down your face. You may feel winded.
“The body's response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise," said study researcher, Lee S. Berk of Loma Linda University in a 2010 press statement. Berk, DrPH, MPH, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunologist has studied the healing powers of laughter for more than 30 years.
In 2009, Berk teamed with Stanley Tan, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Oak Crest Health Research Institute in Loma Linda, California to study “mirthful laughter” as a preventative complementary therapy for diabetes care.
In the study, 20 high-risk diabetic patients with hypertension and hyperlipidemia were divided into two groups and received the same standard care, but one group viewed self-selected humor for 30 minutes daily.
The group experiencing the daily laugh raised their good cholesterol and lowered inflammation.
By the second month of the study, the laughter group had lower stress levels and inflammation, and had increased their good (HDL) cholesterol compared to the non-laughter group.
Additionally, the authors concluded that mirthful laughter “may thus lower the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome,” the study stated.
Another 2000 study, conducted by University of Maryland Medical Center cardiologists found that easily breaking into laughter might help protect you from a heart attack.
The Maryland researchers studied 300 people — half with heart disease and half that were healthy, age-matched counterparts. The people with heart disease were found to be more somber in a variety of situations, compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
They found study participants with heart disease generally laughed less than the control group, even in positive situations. They were less likely to recognize humor, and they tended to displayed more anger and hostility than their counterparts, according to the study.
Michael Miller, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, was associated with the Maryland study. He said in a statement at the time, "We don't know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.”
Laughter has other health benefits too. Remember those stress-releasing endorphins that flood your brain during a laugh session? It turns out they can also help relieve pain, anxiety and depression, and may be as effective as prescription painkillers.
In one famous early laughter study, Harry Paskind and colleagues observed stress reduction and relaxation from post-joyful laughter lasting up to 45 minutes. Later research has backed it up.
“Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses,” according to Mayo Clinic.
Laughter Good For Heart. University of Maryland Medical Center. 15 Nov. 2000. Accessed 6 May 2015 at:
Paskind, HA. Effects of laughter on muscle tone. Arch Neurol Psychiatry. 1932;28:623–8.(Abstract)
Laughter affects body like exercise. LiveScience. 26 April 2010. Accessed 7 April 2015 online at
Laughter Remains Good Medicine. American Physiological Society Press Release. April 17, 2009. Accessed 7 April 2015 at:
Stress Relief from Laughter? It’s no joke. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 7 April 7, 2015 at:
Reviewed April 10, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith