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Why is laughter good for you?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine”. There are many benefits to laughing though some are more obvious than others.

Usually we associate laughter as an involuntary fast response to something that makes us happy, but have you ever thought that there may be more to it? In fact, it requires the simultaneous effort of several parts of our brain to trigger the laughter response.

How a laugh is created

laughing-manWe receive the stimuli to make us laugh in many different ways, via our senses of touch, sight, and hearing, and even taste. These stimuli are then converted into messages, sent via our nervous systems to part of our brain known as the cerebral cortex. Our higher functioning left hemisphere decodes words and sentences, and analyses the information whilst the right more creative side makes sense of the information and just ‘gets it’! Meanwhile, the visual centre of the brain, forms an image of the idea. That’s when the emotional, limbic system (our old friends Amygdala, Hippocampus, and Hypothalamus) releases the necessary chemistry that improves our mood, promotes happy physical and vocal responses of smiling, laughter, and doubling up in ‘stitches’.

Laughter is so important to our health, there’s a whole therapy originating in India called laughter yoga.

How our physiology responds when we laugh

When we laugh there are several things that happen in our bodies. Firstly, it increases our blood flow which increases our oxygen supply to all of the cells throughout our body and brain. In turn, this reduces our blood pressure with the surge of oxygen which can’t help but improve our energy, sense of well-being and mood.

Laughing also provides exercise for our face, chest, abdomen, shoulders and upper back, and even our leg muscles in a very natural way. In fact, there are numerous benefits but the area I want to focus on today is the reduction of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.

We know that the extended-release of these two pals is not good for our overall health. The act of laughing can interrupt their production, don’t forget that increase in oxygen to the body that then energises us and lifts our mood.

Other benefits include the release of 2 chemicals key in fighting disease and for those who need to know they are gamma-interferon and T cells.

In uncertain and worrying times, anything to boost our body’s disease-fighting and immunity processes has to be a good thing. The laughing process is believed to be effective in pain relief, and inhibition of anxiety. It’s also been shown, but only with regular doses of laughter, to be particularly effective in inhibiting the common cold and respiratory bacterial infections. Also as mentioned earlier the reduction in the production of cortisol and adrenaline which deplete our systems’ resilience.

How laughing helps with learning

Humour can also be used in a learning environment to help us retain information too.

laughing-woman-in-cafeI remember early on in a study group at university, whilst training to be a Chiropractor, learning basic skeletal anatomy, and someone in the group describing the kneecap as a ginger biscuit. Twenty-plus years on and I still remember kneecap, patella, and ginger biscuit.

Humour has been harnessed by medics and scholars to remember long pieces of information in the form of mnemonics, a pattern of letters and associations that assist us in remembering.

An appropriate example would be for learning to spell laugh… Laughing Aunties Under Green Hats, LAUGH. Silly but effective nonetheless. Most of the medical ones are too rude to print here.

So take a leaf out of Santa’s book and practice your Ho, ho, ho!

Keep well, keep safe and keep laughing. ?

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