Faith in Fitness: Laughter really is the best medicine

Published on: April 13, 2016

Parrish resident; Activities Coordinator JSA Medical Group, a Division of DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc.

Rosie Korfant

Rosie Korfant

How many times have we heard the cliché “laughter is the best medicine”? Well, it’s true, at least according to researcher Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.

While comprehensive studies haven’t been conducted analyzing the health benefits of laughter, one thing’s for sure: laughter changes us physiologically. Muscles in our entire body stretch and we start breathing faster, which then raises our oxygen levels. Our cells feel refreshed! And all that from laughter?

Wait, there’s more good news: laughter seems to burn calories, too. Maciej Buchowski, researcher from Vanderbilt University, found that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories. Yay, bring on those guffaws. However, Vanderbilt does NOT recommend us getting rid of our treadmills, since one piece of chocolate equals about 50 calories. So, you can see the equation here: one piece of chocolate for 10 to 15 minutes of laughter — we’d be laughing for about 12 hours to lose one pound. Hmmmm.

I consider myself a very optimistic and positive sort of person. Usually I can have folks laughing in a matter of minutes with some wacky anecdote. But there are true “laughter therapists” in our world. Paul Antokolsky and wife Leslie Ahern are a pair of Certified Laugh Leaders. Interviewed by NBC News in Boston, the laugh leaders say when you get oxygen into all the cells of your body, (i.e., with laughter) your body gets more energized. You actually change your brain chemistry, making you feel better. Interestingly, the results are the same whether it’s a contrived laughter or whether something just happens to tickle your funny bone.

Laughing as therapy was introduced by Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian physician who wanted his patients to have a healthier lifestyle. He began combining laughing with some of the yoga masters’ techniques. One classic pose, known as the “Lion,” actually makes you laugh whether you want to or not. Go ahead, try it. Clench your hands tightly and screw up your face into a menacing lion pose, and after holding your breath a second or two, explode with laughter and a big “HAH!” Do it repetitively, and you will start laughing automatically.

Laughter Clubs have sprung up around the country, with the “laughter wave” introduced as a fun way for seniors to remember their childhood. Children laugh more than 200 times a day while adults only laugh about 15. The “laughter wave” asks that you flail your arms upward and release a laugh to begin a riotous chain of belly laughs. All you really need for a good laugh is air — as in breathing. Just breathe from the diaphragm and not the chest as if you were taking vocal lessons. Go ahead, try it — again! Put one hand on your tummy and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath; make sure you feel your tummy is raising not your chest. Then exhale with ha-ha-ha, softly at first. Then take larger breaths and noisier ha-ha-ha’s, and you’ve got the making of one of the most economical stress relievers ever! Hearty laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones and increases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones.

In a study by Miller M. Fry, W.F. Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, University of Maryland Medical Center, it was shown that the use of “LOLing” may have the same positive effect as exercise.

So, one and all: LOL — laugh out loud.


Michael W. Smith, MD and R. Morgan Griffin, WebMD
Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience; University of Maryland, author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.
Maciej Buchowski, Vanderbilt University|
Paul Antokolsky, Leslie Ahern, Certified Laugh Leaders.
NBC News Boston
Dr. Madan Kataria
Miller M. Fry, W.F. Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology,
University of Maryland Medical Center