10 Things You May Not Know About Laughter

By: Peterson, James A., Ph.D., FACSM

  1. WHAT IS IT? Laughter, typically, the response to humor, is a physical reaction in humans, consisting, as a rule, of rhythmical, often audible, contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory system. As such, laughter is part of human behavior regulated by the brain, helping individuals clarify their intentions in social situations, as well as providing emotional context to their circumstances.
  2. THE BEST MEDICINE. Although laughter makes people feel better in the moment, there appear to be long-term health (both physical and mental) benefits as well. Accordingly, some experts recommend that individuals get 15 to 20 minutes of laughter a day.
  3. OH, TO BE A KID AGAIN. All in all, it goes without saying that happy people have more fun. In fact, individuals who choose to be happy and exemplify positivity tend to look for more opportunities to laugh. It’s been written (though never documented) that the average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day, whereas the average 40-year-old only laughs four times a day. The importance of such an observation is reinforced by the oft-cited quote, “You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.”
  4. HEART HEALTHY. Research has shown that laughter has an anti-inflammatory effect that helps protect blood vessels and heart muscle from the damaging effects of cardiovascular disease. In fact, one study found that people with cardiac disease laughed approximately 40% less at life-related situations than those individuals without cardiac disease.
  5. IT’S NO JOKE. Laughter can have a positive impact on a person’s stress level. Not only does it decrease the release of stress hormones, but it also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones, which promote an overall sense of well-being, as well as, in some circumstances, temporarily relieve pain.
  6. STRETCHES THE IMAGINATION. Laughter allows people to entertain the absurd and imagine alternative possibilities. It enables individuals to see things from various angles and from a different perspective. All factors considered, by creating psychological distance, it allows people to have a sense of safety when they’re confronted by anxiety-provoking life situations.
  7. EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS. Scientists have calculated that just 15 minutes of laughter a day will burn approximately 10 to 40 calories a day, depending on how much a person weighs and how hard that individual laughs. Such a caloric expenditure can result in a loss of 1 to 4 lbs a year. In that regard, it is important to note that tickling, which makes a person laugh, has a similar caloric burn.
  8. NOT A LEARNED BEHAVIOR. Humans are hardwired for laughter. Everyone has the capacity to laugh, including blind and deaf people. Arguably, laughing could be considered the universal language. Greetings may entail different meanings in various regions and areas of the world, but laughter is a sign of happiness everywhere on the planet. In fact, laughter is a sound that does not have any language.
  9. LAUGH AND THE WORLD LAUGHS WITH YOU. Researchers have found that laughing really is contagious. When someone sees someone smiling and laughing, their natural response is to do the same. As such, the brain responds to the sound of laughter and preps the muscles in the face to join in the mirth. Furthermore, the setting also matters. For example, a person is 30 times more likely to laugh when in a group, versus being alone.
  10. APLOMB. Laughter has been shown to increase a person’s level of self-esteem. Not only can laughing and smiling make a person feel better about themselves, they are appealing attributes that help boost a sense of confidence in social situations.


Reprinted from  © 2019 American College of Sports Medicine