Studies show tickling the funny bone might aid your health

April 18, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Cathy Hansen of Chambersburg, Pa., teaches laughter yoga through her business, Laugh n' Live Well. This laughter yoga class is having a good old belly laugh during one of her sessions. People of all ages take her classes for a good laugh.
Courtesy of Laugh 'n' Live Well,

Feeling a little down?

Try laughing.

Can't ignore that aching back?

A little giggle won't hurt.

In fact, a daily dose of laughter might be just what the doctor ordered - and there's no charge.

According to decades of research, a good laugh can be a powerful antidote to stress and conflict. It lightens your burdens and makes you feel less overwhelmed.

But in addition to changing your attitude, it also might trigger physical changes. For instance, a study at the University of Maryland Center for Preventive Cardiology found that laughter increased blood flow, which helped blood vessels function better. Other studies say it causes the release of endorphins, which can act as temporary pain relievers.

Basically, laughing has unexpected benefits, said Donna Frentz, clinical services director at the Mental Health Center of Western Maryland in Hagerstown.


That's why many therapists incorporate laughter and humor with their clients, she said.

"We all use our personalities in our work. There are some therapists who are more upbeat than others," she said. "But most of us reach a point with our clients where we can tease a little bit, share laughter over something silly that someone said. Laughter can help with rapport building and create relaxation."

When it comes to older adults, research has shown that human aging has a mind-body connection that benefits from laughter.

Often, studies say, this segment of the population may feel lonely, isolated, depressed and filled with anxiety.

While laughter is not a cure for these conditions, laughter can be beneficial in causing a change in a person's outlook, Frentz said.

"The other part of it is, you have to tailor the humor you use to the age of the client," she said. "What is funny to young children may not be funny to adults. And adolescents have a humor all their own. So someone who is going to use humor with an elderly person has to make it appropriate for their age."

Frentz said many health specialists use reminiscence therapy, which includes music that is specific to the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

The same would be true of humor, she said.

With increased awareness of the importance of laughter, there is a growing industry of programs that encourage laughing. There are laughter clubs and laughter programs.

Locally, a talk on "Laughter is the Best Medicine" is being presented throughout the month of April at senior sites throughout Washington County. And on Monday, April 19, Laughter Day is being held at Potomac Towers, which will feature joke telling.

There even is laughter yoga that mixes yoga deep breathing with laughing exercises, as well as laughter meditation - all good options for rediscovering your funny bone.

Cathy Hansen of Chambersburg, Pa., has been teaching laughter yoga with her business, Laugh n' Live Well, for about a year and said it has been a wonderful experience.

"In a nutshell," she said, "laughter yoga is practiced in a safe, joyful environment where participants can laugh heartily and for an extended period of time in order to capture the full benefits of laughter."

"It is exercise, not comedy, and is a great cardio workout," Hansen explained.

It's usually practiced in a group, where there is eye contact, playfulness and the willingness to laugh while doing the laughter exercises and deep breathing yoga movements.

"It's one of the few exercises that relieves the affects of mental, emotional and physical stress simultaneously," Hansen said. "Personally, it has lowered my blood pressure and helped to reduce my stress levels considerably."

Hansen said she has taught classes from Chambersburg to as far away as Philadelphia. Go to Hansen's Web site at, for a calendar of upcoming events.

"There are several senior living centers in Franklin County, (Pa.) that I have been visiting and I recently did some sessions for ARC of Washington County," she said. "Older people enjoy laughter yoga very much; but it's appreciated by other age groups, as well."

Hansen said Wilson College had a Laughter Yoga Club this past semester "and several of the staff have said they feel the effects of the relaxation and positive philosophy well after the session."

Benefits of laughter ARE nothing to laugh at

If you're not convinced that laughter is one of the best medicines, here are some of the reported health benefits of laughter and a good sense of humor, courtesy of the American Mental Health Association.

o Stress reduction. Studies have shown that the ability to laugh, even in difficult situations, causes the reduction of stress-producing hormones in the body.

o Relaxation. A good, hearty belly laugh relieves physical tension, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.

o Shifts perspective. Laughter allows you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light.

o Immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response. Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies and boost the level of immune cells, as well.

o Enhances brain function. As you experience a bout of laughter, the increase in your circulation also effects the amount of blood in your brain. Laughing stimulates both sides of the brain, so it also increases our ability to focus and retain information. The result is improved mental clarity and attentiveness.

o A mild workout. A good laugh causes your pulse and respiration rate to increase and many of your muscles to stretch.

o Encourages social interactions. Laughter strengthens relationships, attracts others to us, enhances teamwork, helps defuse conflict and promotes bonding.

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