By GINA BAILEY

We all laugh because humor feels good and brings people together, but did you know it has many health benefits? Researchers have studied laughter, along with positive emotions, and have found that laughter and lightheartedness can be a natural medicine for many conditions.

More and more research has proven that our thoughts, moods, emotions, belief systems and social interactions impact our body’s physical health. Since earlier research has focused on how stress negatively impacts health, it should come to no surprise that positive thoughts and moods can benefit our health as well.

Laughter has both a physiological and psychological effect on the body. When we laugh, we can relax, better cope and put things into perspective.

During stressful situations, laughter can help lower blood pressure and clear your mind by decreasing the production of the body’s stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine. Stress hormones can have a negative impact on the body by increasing heart rate and blood pressure, constricting blood vessels and slowing processes such as digestion and immunity.

A good sense of humor and the ability to laugh when under stress can help mitigate the damaging effects of stressful emotions.

Do you enjoy a good cardio workout? Laughter has shown to have benefits similar to aerobic exercise on the cardiovascular system. Laughter can improve energy and mood, increase blood circulation and oxygen intake, ventilate the lungs and exercise the torso and abdominal muscles. In addition, nitric oxide is released during laughter, which protects the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing the formation of fats and cholesterol on the artery walls.

Laughter, positive emotions and pleasant interactions have been shown to naturally decrease pain levels. When we experience positive emotions or laughter, the brain secretes catecholamines and endorphins. Catecholamines help to decrease inflammation, and endorphins are often called “the brain’s natural pain medicine.”

When laughter therapy is used, a person’s pain threshold increases and pain decreases. The use of laughter as an alternative pain treatment is not a new concept. Prior to the use of anesthesia, it is documented that doctors used laughter as a distraction to relieve pain during surgery.

Have you ever been so stressed for a prolonged period that you became physically ill?

Stress, depression and negative emotions can cause us to have a poor immune system, while laughter can increase our immune system.

Dr. Franz Ingelfinger of the New England Journal of Medicine stated that 85 percent of all human illnesses are curable by the body’s healing system if that system is healthy. Laughter boosts the body’s immune system by releasing antibody-producing cells, such as t-cells and b-cells, which fight off infection and aid in destroying tumor cells.

With the research and evidence showing laughter can protect your heart, boost your immune system and increase energy, we all should be more aware of the chuckles, giggles and guffaws we have each day.

Watch a comedy, play with a child, go to dinner with friends or do something silly. The benefits of laughter can last for more than 24 hours.

Bailey is a registered nurse and the community nurse liaison at Bridge Home Health & Hospice, an affiliate of Blanchard Valley Health System. If you have a question, contact the health system’s public relations and marketing department by emailing community@bvhealthsystem.org or by calling 419-423-5551.

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