“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”  – Voltaire

Although many of us have felt instinctively for years that laughter, like crying, can be a powerful antidote to pain and suffering, the scientific world is finally catching up. According to the American Association for Therapeutic Humor, laughter may have a direct effect on the body’s ability to fight infections. It helps to boost the number of “killer” white blood cells produced that attack viruses and bacteria.

Laughter is Like Exercise

“We now have laboratory evidence that mirthful laughter stimulates most of the major physiologic systems of the body,” said William Fry, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School, and expert on the relationship of humor to health. According to Fry, a good belly-laugh brings about physiological changes similar to aerobic exercise, speeding up the heart rate, increasing blood circulation and working numerous muscles all over the body.

One way to think about laughter is that it can be like a mild workout and may offer some of the same advantages. Fry claims that it takes ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter.

Laughter Helps Prevent Disease

Fry and his researchers believe laughter may help prevent heart attacks by easing tension, relieving stress and reducing anger. It can also help lower levels of anxiety, depression, and other negative mood states which leave the sufferer vulnerable to illnesses of all sorts.

Research at the University of Maryland examined the effect on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. The group who watched comedies had normal blood flow, expanding and contracting easily. In contrast, those who watched dramas tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.

Laughter Dulls Pain

The benefits of laughter were first introduced to the public when Norman Cousin wrote his memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. After Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, he discovered that watching old comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, actually made him feel better physically. He reported how ten minutes of laughter enabled him to have two hours of pain-free sleep.

The personal experience reported by Cousins has subsequently been studied by researchers. Robert Provine, author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, writes that the most convincing health benefit he’s seen from laughter is its ability to dull pain. Numerous studies of people in pain or suffering discomfort from illness say the same thing: when they laugh, their pain doesn’t bother them as much.

Laughter Boosts the Immune System

Subsequent research has also shown that laughter (and tears) help stimulate our immune system to go into high gear. This is especially important during times of stress when our immune system is taxed. Research suggests that using humor and laughter can raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells.

In another study following diabetics, researchers examined how laughter impacts blood sugar. After eating a meal, one group attended a serious lecture while another watched a comedy. Guess which group had lower levels of blood sugar…yes, those that laughed.

Laughter is a Social Affair

Provine discussed his own research, discovering that people are thirty times more likely to laugh when in a social setting with other people rather than alone. One of his hypotheses is that folks who laugh a lot may have or perhaps be building stronger connections with those around them. He surmises how that in and of itself may have positive health benefits.

This is just a small sample of the positive effects of laughter. In short, the scientists have come to the same conclusion: Laughter is indeed good medicine, and should be added to the list of things we do each day to prevent serious diseases.

Laughter IS the Best Medicine

And since no one has ever suffered ill effects of laughter that I know of, this is a super powerful medicine with no known side effects—other than, perhaps, increased happiness and longevity for you and your family. If the ability to laugh could be packaged and sold, customers would be lined up around the block to get it.

We were shocked to learn another statistic while researching this topic. According to Fry, the average kindergartner laughs 300 times a day. In contrast, adults average only 17 laughs a day. Now that’s something to stop and think about.

Perhaps we should all start counting our giggles to get back into the hundreds. Clearly, most of us grown-ups are taking life far too seriously for our own good.