Can we laugh our way to a healthier body?

Yes, we can, according to science. More evidence points to the therapeutic benefits of genuine laughter – the type that causes our bellies to shake and has us almost gasping for breath. From significantly reducing the amount of pain we feel to actually boosting our immune system, laughter is a simple but effective way to improve our health.

One area that may be of interest to you is the ability of laughter to augment fitness and weight loss goals. Nutritionists are slowly finding that therapeutic humor can blunt the desire of stress-induced emotional eating and even make older adults feel better about their fitness journey. These effects were observed even if the laughter was initially “faked” or forced. Eventually, the researchers found, participants ended up laughing for real due to the ridiculousness of their situation.

There is physiological evidence to back these observations as well. A 2012 study found that 10 to 15 minutes of continued genuine laughter could increase energy expenditure by 40-170 kJ (10-40 kcal). When combined with a regular physical activity program, people are more likely to lose weight faster, keep the pounds off, and generally feel good about their weight loss. Moreover, data suggest that laughing can improve athletic endurance, making people more willing to exercise and thus lose more weight.

Laughter as medicine

Anyone can laugh for no reason, but what if you could deliberately use it to improve your health? That’s the basis of a simple exercise routine called Laughter Yoga. Developed by a medical doctor from India, the technique uses specially guided strategies to induce real and contagious laughter. It is a combination of deep breathing exercises and laughter exercises.

Most therapy sessions are done in groups. A typical Laughter Yoga session consists of these four activities:

Clapping and gibberish

The Laughter Leader will ask participants to clap their hands parallel to each other for full finger-to-finger and palm-to-palm contact. This stimulates certain acupressure points in the hands. The clapping is accompanied with movement and chanting, usually going from side to side while heavily exhaling HO, HO, HA-HA-HA.

After clapping, people are asked to speak gibberish. This helps loosen up any tension and reduces inhibitions and shyness among members.

Deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing helps clear out the lungs and helps participants relax.

Childlike playfulness

A series of games are then played. These are done to cultivate childlike playfulness and help members laugh without reason.

Laughter exercises

Some Laughter Yoga sessions use physical activity for a more energetic way to induce laughter. Here, participants are asked to run around and play childlike games with each other.

Some Laughter Yoga exercises are followed by a Laughter Meditation. Participants are asked to sit (or lie down) with their eyes closed, keeping an awareness of their breathing. They are then asked to simulate laughter in a slow and gradual manner. Genuine laughter will occur eventually.

Other benefits of laughter

If Laughter Yoga isn’t your thing, you can still reap the benefits of laughter by just finding something humorous in your day and then laughing about it. Here are some reasons why you should start laughing more each day:

  • Reduces stress – Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body.
  • Boosts the immune system – Laughter can stimulate antibody cells to develop at faster rates. (Related: Don’t Take Life Too Seriously – A Healthy Sense of Humor May Prolong Your Life.)
  • Regulates blood pressure – Mirthful laughter can decrease blood pressure.
  • Increases blood oxygenation – Laughing causes us to use our respiratory system quickly and strenuously for a short time. This intense activity promotes better blood flow.
  • Improves memory – Neural connections associated with learning and memory are typically strengthened after a bout of intense laughter.

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