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Have you set a goal to decrease your stress levels?  What about reducing your blood pressure?  Or maybe your goal is to be happier and/or more positive? Well, ensuring you include a couple of good belly laughs in to your daily routine might just let you achieve your goals and live a healthier life.

Studies have found the effects of laughter on the body to include:

  1. Decreased blood pressure
  2. Decreased cortisol levels (stress hormone released by the adrenal glands)
  3. Increased number and activity of natural killer cells, and increased number of T cells that have helper / suppressor receptors
  4. Increased level of disease fighting proteins Gamma-interferon and B-cells
  5. Strengthened cardiovascular functions

To read the full article on how you can laugh your injuries away, see below.

Laughing Injuries Away?

Gelotology is the physiological study of laughter, and research has found a significant impact of humor on the human body.

Laughter is the physiological response to humor. It consists of 2 parts – a set of physical gestures, as a result of muscle contraction, and the production of sound, a result of the epiglottis half-closing the larynx.  When we laugh, the brain pressures us to conduct both of these activities simultaneously.  It has been suggested that humans have a “detector” that responds to laughter by triggering other neural circuits in the brain, which in turn, generates more laughter.  Have you ever experienced how laughter seems to be contagious?

We know that certain parts of the brain are responsible for certain human functions.  For example, emotional responses are the function of the brain’s frontal lobe.  However, researchers have learned that the production of laughter involves various regions of the brain. Peter Derks (1997), professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary, traced the pattern of brainwave activity in subjects responding to humorous material. Subjects were hooked up to an electroencephalograph (EEG) and their brain activity was measured when they laughed. In each case, the brain produced a regular electrical pattern.  Within four-tenths of a second of exposure to something potentially funny, an electrical wave moved through the whole cerebral cortex (the largest part of the brain).  If the wave took a negative charge, laughter resulted. If it maintained a positive charge, there was no response.  Further findings included:

  • The left side of the cortex first analyzed the words and structure of the joke.
  • The large frontal lobe (which is involved in social emotional responses) then became very active.
  • The right hemisphere of the cortex carried out the intellectual analysis required to “get” the joke.
  • Brainwave activity then spread to the sensory processing area of the occipital lobe.
  • And finally, stimulation of the motor sections in the brain evoked a physical response to the joke.

So what makes one laugh?  There are three traditional theories about what we find humorous:

  1. The incongruity theory– suggests that humor arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don’t normally go together.
  2. The superiority theory – when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else’s mistakes, stupidity, or misfortune.
  3. The relief theory – as we try to cope with two sets of emotions and thoughts, we need a release and laughter as a way of cleansing our system of the built up tension and incongruity (also known as comic relief).

There are several obvious differences in people that affect what they find humorous, with the most significant being age.  For example, infants and children are constantly discovering the world around them. A lot of what goes on seems ridiculous and surprising, which strikes them as funny.  What’s funny to a toddler consists of short and simple concepts, like an elephant joke or someone making funny sounds with their mouths. The pre-teen and teenager years are, almost universally, awkward and tense.

Lots of adolescents and teens laugh at jokes that focus on sex, food, authority figures and any subject that adults consider off-limits.  It is an insecure time of life and teens often use humor as a tool to protect themselves or to feel superior. As we mature, our mental outlook grows and changes. By the time we are grown, we have experienced much of life, including tragedy and success, thus our senses of humor are more mature.  We laugh at other people and ourselves in shared common predicaments and embarrassments.  The adult sense of humor is usually characterized as more subtle, more tolerant and less judgmental about the differences in people, or rather laughing at the issues that stress us out.

Many researchers have investigated the effects of laughter on the body (Fry, 1994; Fry & Savin, 1988).  Particularly, Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan (1989), Loma Linda University Medical Center, have produced carefully controlled studies showing the effects of laughter on the body, particularly the immune system.

Studies have found the effects of laughter on the body to include:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cortisol levels (stress hormone released by the adrenal glands)
  • Increased number and activity of natural killer cells, and increased number of T cells that have helper / suppressor receptors
  • Increased level of disease fighting proteins Gamma-interferon and B-cells
  • Strengthened cardiovascular functions

The bottom line is that laughter stimulates the immune system, thereby offsetting the immunosuppressive effects of stress.  As stress in the workplace can be a contributing risk factor for injury, including a good belly laugh throughout the day may be one more way to help you to reduce your risk.  Apparently even Abraham Lincoln recognized the positive impact of laughter, stating “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”

References
Derks P., Gilliking L.S, Bartolome-Rull D. S., & Bogart E.H. (1997). Laughter and electroencephalographic activity.  Humor – International Journal of Humor Research. Volume 10, Issue 3.
Berk, Lee S., Tan, Stanley A., Fry, William F. MD, Napier,  Barbara J. BS, Lee, Jerry W., Hubbard, Richard W., Lewis, John E., & Eby, William C. (1989). Neuroendocrine and Stress Hormone Changes During Mirthful Laughter. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. Volume 298, Issue 6.
Fry, W.F. & Savin, W.M.  (1988). Mirthful laughter and blood pressure.  Humor- International Journal of Humor Research. Volume 1, Issue 1.
Fry, W.F. (1994). The biology of humor. Humor- International Journal of Humor Research. Volume 7, Issue 2.

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