The health benefits of laughter

The health benefits of laughter are widely chronicled and we know ourselves how good a belly laugh can make us feel. Some studies have shown that it is not simply due to laughter lifting your mood. The physical exertion involved in the process of laughing can also give you some of the benefits of a light workout.

Gelotology, or the study of laughter, has long sought scientific answers to the potential healthy benefits of laughing. Some proponents even often advocate laughter on therapeutic grounds in alternative medicine.

Laughter releases endorphins including seratonin which make us feel happy together with other hormones linked with reducing stress, boosting our immune response (particularly helpful during winter months). Given that we are usually with other people when we laugh it improves our mood and strengthens our social relationships.

When it comes to our mental health, the release of ‘happy hormones’ are an excellent short-term relief, while an increased level of social bonding can lead to longer-term feelings of greater inclusion and the development and growth of social networks. It is now widely acepted that both can successfully fight depression.

In 2011 researchers at the University of Oxford published research which suggested that people feel less pain after a good laugh because it may cause the body to release chemicals that act as a natural painkiller. Tittering and giggling didn’t do the job but a good guffaw did. Laughing until it hurts appeared to produce the endorphin effect.

For anyone with mental health issues, from anxiety and stress to depression, comedy and laughter can provide a distraction from life and from the anxieties and pressures that we may be feeling. In our latest YouGov health survey ‘The mental health and wellbeing of education professionals in the UK’ 75% of education professionals told us they have faced mental and physical health issues in the last two years because of their work and amost a third (29%) told us that their job has made them feel stressed most or all of the time in recent weeks. It’s significantly higher than the overall UK population.

Here are the key health benefits of laughter:

  • It can help boost your immune system. Research shows that laughter may increase the number of infection-fighting anitbodies in our systems. Likewise, positive thoughts and feelings, such as those associated with laughter, have the potential to release neuropeptides which help to fight illness and stress.
  • It can help to relieve pain. Laughter can support your body to produce natural painkillers and help relieve pain caused by muscle disorders by interfering with the pain-spasm’ cycle.
  • It can help reduce blood pressure. Scientists have found that laughter improves the flow of blood through the body’s arteries, helping to reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
  • It’s an easy way to work out. Just 10-15 minutes of laughing can burn off 50 calories.
  • It can help form communities. Belly laughs apear to have been unique to early humans, enabling our ancestors to form much larger tribal groupings than the ape-like species that lived alongside them.
  • It can lift your mood. The physical exertion of laughing can give some of the benefits of a light workout.  
  • Laughter can boost your own and other’s wellbeing.  Making other people laugh can boost your own wellbeing as well as other people’s. Telling jokes, funny anecdotes or even sharing amusing video’s can help, espeically if you know they are struggling with your own mental health.

Laughter is a distraction.  It’s an immediate way of living in the moment, forgettting your worries and relives anxiety.

Going to see live comedy is an excellent stress-buster at the end of a hard day and we’re incredibly excited to be hosting our first-ever comedy fundraiser at the end of this month. ‘The funny thing about teaching’ will be hosted by BBC’s Mock the Week regular, quick-witted comedian and actor Kerry Godliman. She’ll be joined by ex teachers turned comedians Rob Rouse and Jo D’Arcy together with Stewart Lee and Jack Dee. Visit our comedy night event page for more information.