We all need a good laugh every now and then, especially in these challenging times. Now, more than ever, there may be a good reason to put on a rom-com or comedy special and laugh away your troubles. Science is beginning to understand that not only is laughing good for our soul, the physical act of laughing may also be good for your health.
The most obvious health side-effect of laughter is an improvement in mood and a decrease in stress. Depression has become a plague on our modern society that, according to science, can be kept at bay by laughing. Laughing initially increases and then decreases your heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in relaxation. In addition, it releases endorphins and enkephalins which can help relieve stress and even act as a natural pain killer.
Aside from stress relief, the physical benefits are extensive. Laughing can provide a workout for your cardiovascular, pulmonary and respiratory systems. When you laugh, your diaphragm, chest and abdominal muscles tighten. This makes the lungs work harder by forcing stale air out and allowing fresh air deeper into the lungs. This is why, according to the Canadian Lung Association, laughter may make your exhalations more effective. “When you laugh, your lungs get rid of stale air allowing more oxygen to enter. This is because laughter helps to expand alveoli, the tiny air sacs in your lungs. Expanding these means that the area for oxygen exchange is bigger and more oxygen enters your lungs.”
To keep the lungs healthy and provide enough oxygen for our body, we need to breathe deeply and expel stale air which is why breathing exercises are recommended for anyone with a respiratory illness. Knowing this, some researchers have looked into whether the benefits of humor and laughter could extend to people who suffer from COPD or asthma. One study found that having a sense of humor is associated with improved emotional functioning and an enhanced quality of life among patients with a chronic lung illness. Another small study demonstrated that laughter reduces air trapping in COPD. Air trapping causes the lungs in COPD patients to be too big and not function properly leading to increased shortness of breath, particularly with activity. American Lung Association’s Chief Medical Officer Albert Rizzo, M.D., further explains that surgery patients can benefit from laughing. “The hearty laugh or ‘belly laugh’ can have the same benefits of expanding the lower portions of the lung as an incentive spirometry device that is often recommended after abdominal surgery to encourage deep breathing and mobilization of dependent mucus,” he said.
Though we still have a lot to learn, one thing is sure, laughter is good for you and we could all use a little more of it. You can now start laughing with the American Lung Association on TikTok. Follow us @americanlungassociation and take part in our new #laughing4lungs challenge coming soon.
Blog last updated: November 2, 2020