Laughter really is the best medicine! From easing back pain to keeping your heart healthy- experts tell of the 6 surprising benefits of a 10 minute chuckle

It turns out the old saying is true: laughter really is the best medicine.

Experts say it does wonders for your mental and physical health, and a growing body of research points to its healing powers.

According to doctors, laughter can help with breathing, keeping the heart healthy and managing stress, among other things.

Scientists still don’t understand why we laugh, but they generally believe that laughter is a byproduct of evolution that allowed our primitive ancestors to build trust and interact with each other using the neurochemical oxytocin.

Laughter is most useful in social settings and is crucial for building social bonds, something humans need, according to Dr. Eileen Anderson, a psychologist who studies laughter at Case Western Reserve University.

She told ‘If we sold laughter as medicine it would be sold on the shelves because it makes you feel better and calms you down. And it’s accessible to everyone across the life cycle and from all different backgrounds. And it’s free.’

According to doctors, laughter can help with breathing, keeping the heart healthy and managing stress, among other things

When we laugh, we take a lot of deep breaths, which allows the body to take in more oxygen than it otherwise would, causing the muscles to relax.

The Canadian Lung Association say: ‘When you laugh, your lungs are cleared of stale air and more oxygen can enter. This is because laughing helps expand the alveoli in your lungs.

‘These are little air pockets – there are about 300 to 500 million of them! If you expand this, the area for oxygen exchange increases and more oxygen gets into your lungs.’

That boost in oxygenation improves respiratory function by relaxing the muscles in the lungs and heart function by increasing circulation.

Laughter is believed to have a positive effect on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, by helping it release nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is known to relax the arteries that drain blood from the heart.

Relaxed arteries are less likely to spasm and are more likely to remain open, allowing oxygen-rich blood to flow smoothly to the rest of the body.

Dr. Lindsay Wilson-Barlow, a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah, said: ‘Studies have shown that simply laughing for 20 seconds has the ability to double heart rate over the next three to five minutes.

‘As a result, [laughter advocate Norman Cousins] described laughter as “a form of jogging for the intestines.”

It’s no surprise that a hearty laugh at a comedy performance or a friend’s joke can lift the dark clouds over your head in a time of mental distress, whether it’s a serious breakup or a bout of depression.

The power of laughter goes neuron deep. It lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and changes the activity of dopaminethe body’s reward hormone, and serotonin, the feel-good hormone.

These neurotransmitters play an important role in regulating emotions and motivation to pursue goals and fulfill needs.

Even forcing yourself to laugh can have benefits, and it is known as laughter therapy by doctors who use it on patients. The ability to find humor in the world and make yourself laugh grows stronger over time, like a muscle, Dr. Anderson told

She said, “So people who make some concerted effort to try to laugh will start to tune in to funny things, and find that they laugh more throughout their lives.”

Laughter reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline, modulating the body's natural fight-or-flight response.  Thanks to oxytocin, it is also a crucial part of building social bonds

Laughter reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline, modulating the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. Thanks to oxytocin, it is also a crucial part of building social bonds

Laughter also makes it easier to deal with stress. It suppresses cortisol, the hormone that fluctuates in response to stress, and adrenaline. These play an important role in triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Dr. Wilson-Barlow said: ‘Eliciting laughter initiates the fight-or-flight stress response. However, about 20 minutes after laughing, physiological measurements such as heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension drop below baseline levels.

‘There is a feeling of physiological and psychological relaxation and calmness that can last up to 45 minutes after the person’s last laugh.’

Laughter has been clinically shown to reduce the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in people’s blood. A 1989 study tested the power of “happy laughter” by dividing ten men into two groups: one in which the men watched an hour-long funny movie, and a control group who did not.

The people who laughed saw a statistically significant decrease in the cortisol circulating in their blood.

They also had significantly lower levels of a substance that results from the breakdown of dopamine, suggesting that laughter actually slowed the metabolism and breakdown of dopamine, making them feel better.

Although laughter can help us feel better emotionally, it can also help us feel better physically.

Laughter leads to the release of endorphins in the brain, which helps control pain.

A 1995 report in the magazine Pain divided the people into four groups of twenty and had them watch different films.

One group watched a comedy film, another a ‘repulsive’ film, the third a ‘neutral’ film and group four watched nothing at all.

Both the humorous and disgusting groups showed significantly higher pain tolerance when they dipped their hands in ice-cold water to measure how long they could withstand the discomfort, compared to the neutral film group and the no-film group.

The repellent group showed the greatest increase in pain tolerance, although the difference from the humor group was not statistically significant.

Lower cortisol levels and stress caused by laughing also relieve muscle tension.

A 1999 study in the Lancet reported laughter can trigger the muscles in the body to relax.

Researchers from the Netherlands attached electrodes to volunteers’ legs to measure the H-reflex, a neurological pathway that causes muscles to contract, and then showed them a series of slides intended to elicit a response.

The people who laughed saw their muscle tension disappear.

The researchers found: ‘When the volunteers laughed out loud, their H-reflex virtually disappeared, while it decreased much less when they didn’t laugh.’

Laughter itself can act like a muscle. The ability to use it as a means to feel better emotionally or physically can be improved and strengthened.

But Americans don’t laugh enough, Dr. Anderson told this website. But that’s why more research is needed into why we laugh, what makes us laugh, and how we can best use that capacity for humor to our advantage.

SHE SAID: ‘So many other cultures just had humor built in, joy built in, relaxation built in. But we’re like the culture of 24/7 driving, where you think you’re going to get left behind if you don’t ride that wave. .

‘I think that’s why this research seems revolutionary. For us, it’s countercultural in some ways, and so we can’t just know this. We need to have something called laughter therapy, we need to prescribe it, we need to have programs for it.”