No Joke: The Health Benefits of Laughter

Laughter can lead to lower stress and improved longevity.

“Knock, knock. Who’s there?” …You know where this is going; some silly joke, some weak attempt at wrangling a giggle or two. Orange you glad I didn’t keep going?

But when it comes to well-being and good health, giggles are no joke. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter is an excellent stress reliever, and that lowering of stress levels, measured by reduction of the “stress hormone” cortisol, leads to numerous other health benefits.

In fact, researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that people who have a sense of humor and laugh frequently are less likely to develop heart disease. In 2014, researchers at Loma Linda University in California observed as older adults watched funny videos and found that their cortisol levels dropped and their recall abilities improved after laughing.

“Laughter indeed triggers positive physiological responses,” says health educator and retired College of Charleston assistant professor Edie Ellis, PhD, who will be leading an upcoming Advantage program on the relationship between laughter and longevity. Ellis says those physical changes, in addition to lowering stress, include stimulating blood flow to the organs, boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure and even pain relief.

“By helping lower blood pressure and stress, laughter can help decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke,” Ellis adds. “But equally important, it improves one’s overall sense of well-being.”

It simply makes sense that people who laugh easily and often tend to have more positive social interactions – they’re more fun to be around. They also tend to be more optimistic people, and have a joie de vivre that can be contagious. “Giggles send out good vibes,” Ellis says.

So before you poo-poo that knock-knock joke, think about ways to add more laughter to your life. “A day without laughter is a day wasted,” Charlie Chaplin famously said. And it may also be a day without medicine. If laughter each day keeps the doctor away, then that’s a comedy routine worth practicing.

To learn more about the benefits of laughter, join Dr. Edie Ellis for the Advantage Breakfast Club program on July 14. Get more information or register online.