How a good laugh can keep you healthy

Everyone enjoys a good belly laugh, whether it's caused by a friend's joke or a funny TV show. Medical research has shown that laughter can do more than brighten your mood - it can also reduce stress and improve blood flow to promote healthy aging.

According the Mayo Clinic, laughing can help people connect with others and cope with tough situations. It can also improve their immune systems and decrease depression. When you laugh, more oxygen circulates in the body to stimulate organs and results in more overall muscle relaxation. To increase the amount of laughter in your life, surround yourself with people and situations that you find funny. You can also try to find humor in your own day-to-day life. 

Laughter's cardiovascular benefits
A study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine looked at the ways laughter can affect blood flow. Researchers showed two movie clips to a group of 20 people, one that was stress-inducing and another to make the subjects laugh. They found that the stressful movie caused blood vessels to constrict, which prevented blood from flowing smoothly. On the other side of the coin, the funny movie showed an expansion of the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels, which has an effect on coagulation, blood thickening, blood vessel tone, the development of cardiovascular disease and the body's response to irritation, infection or wounds.

Fourteen of the 20 participants experienced an average of 35 percent slowed blood flow during the mentally stressful movie showing. However, 19 out of 20 had a 22 percent increase in blood flow while laughing. The authors compared these effects to physical exercise without the physical strain and potential for injury.

Be silly and stress free
Research out of Loma Linda University in Calif. analyzed the hormonal changes caused by laughter, including the anticipation of a funny moment. They noted that five hormones were affected: a stress hormone called cortisol, adrenaline, dopac, beta-endorphins and the human growth hormone. The endorphins influence depression levels while the human growth hormone plays a part in the immune system. Dopac supports production of adrenaline or epinephrine. When hormone levels were measured, there was a boost in the human growth hormone and beta-endorphins while the amounts of cortisol, dopac and adrenaline dropped.

Laughter therapy in practice
Cancer Treatment Centers of America currently uses humor therapy with cancer patients and their families. According to the organization's website, their therapy program makes laughter a form of exercise. The practice is inspired by Norman Cousins, who believed he cured himself with laughter and vitamins.