Growing up, my grandmother always said, “Laughter is the best medicine.” I remember when I was sick and she would take care of me. We would tell jokes and laugh until I fell asleep. The next day, I always felt 100% better.
Years later, life would take over, and like most adults, I had responsibilities, bills, and other stresses. At times, it seemed I had forgotten how to laugh. However, the other day, I saw the 2009 documentary Laughology from Canadian filmmaker Albert Nerenberg.
The uplifting and inspiring documentary chronicles prominent figures in the field of laughter, including Indian physician turned laughter yoga founder Dr. Madan Kataria. As the first scientist to study laughter as medicine, neurobiologist Dr. Robert R. Provine was also featured in the film.
I was particularly inspired by the story of Norman Cousins, who was an American author, professor, journalist, and world peace advocate. He treated his heart disease with large vitamin C doses and laughter. Also, I dare you not to laugh at the most contagious laugher in the film, Doug Collins. It sure cheered me up!
Laughter Is More Contagious Than a Cold
The laughing from the video had me hooked. I have even prescribed patients laughter as medicine when they felt depressed or sick. It may sound funny, but scientific evidence even supports the power of laughter as medicine. In fact, humor can strengthen your immune system, give you energy, and reduce pain and stress.
In a small study published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, researchers observed the effectiveness of ten 20-minute laughter yoga sessions in six participants between the ages of 51 and 69. What they found was remarkable! After the four-week period, the two men and four women showed improvements in mood, anxiety, and heart rate variability.
In another study at the Indiana State University School of Nursing, laughter helped lower stress and improve the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell known to kill tumor cells, in 33 women. In other words, they had better overall immunity.
Other Health Benefits of Laughter
Laughter therapy is especially useful for the elderly. It can improve sleep quality and insomnia symptoms, and reduce depression, according to a study published in the journal Geriatrics & Gerontology International. The study observed 109 people over the age of 65. In a month, 48 people practiced laughter therapy four times, and they experienced much improvement compared to the 61 people in the control group.
What are some other health benefits of laughing? Laughing and laughter yoga can help improve cardiac health, lower blood pressure, reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, help you maintain a positive attitude, and improve your overall quality of life.
How to Laugh More Often
It can be difficult to just break out in spontaneous laughing, especially when no one is around. It definitely helps to laugh with a group of people. Get together with a friend or family member you enjoy spending time with and have some light conversation; all it takes is a couple giggles and you’re laughing away.
You may also consider attending free laughter yoga social clubs, which can be found all around the world. They help people bring greater joy into life with yogic breathing, relaxation techniques, and self-induced laughter. Everyone will be laughing for no apparent reason—except for better health, of course. To find a laughter club near you, visit the Laughter Yoga web site.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Dolgoff-Kaspar, R., “Effect of laughter yoga on mood and heart rate variability in patients awaiting organ transplantation: a pilot study,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine September to October 2012; 18(5): 61–66.
Bennett, M.P., “The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine March to April 2003; 9(2): 38–45.
Ko, H.J., et al., “Effects of laughter therapy on depression, cognition and sleep among the community-dwelling elderly,” Geriatrics & Gerontology International July 2011; 11(3): 267-274, doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0594.2010.00680.x.
“Curious About Laughter Yoga,” Laughter Yoga web site; http://www.laughteryoga.org/english/laughteryoga, last accessed March 13, 2015.
“Laughter is the Best Medicine,” HelpGuide.org web site; http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm, last accessed March 13, 2015.