Laughter has a therapeutic affect on the whole body, according to a recent study presented by Dr. Lee Berk, of Loma Linda University, at the 2010 Experimental Biology conference. Laughter seems to be as effective as moderate exercise in terms of certain health outcomes such as building the immune system, reducing blood pressure, and improving overall sense of health.
Berk advocates what he calls “laughercise,” an active process of “mirthful laughter” designed to increase the health benefits seen in his research. During a recent “Science Friday” interview on NPR, Berk argued that laughter should be advocated for in order to promote health and should continued to be studied in further research.
Berk has been studying to effect of laughter on the human body since the 1980 in order to examine how elevating mood isn’t the only effect of laughter. For example, one study showed that laughter can control appetite by affecting the hormonal response of an individual. Laughter can help individuals who suffer from “wasting disease” and refuse to eat due to depression or other physical factors.
In the early 1990s, Berk’s research showed that laughter had a therapeutic effect on the immune system and the body’s overall stress response, including blood pressure and releasing endorphins. Further, the process of laughing helps the body breathe in more oxygen through the increased expansion of the diaphragm.
Stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline were diminished in the act of laughing, as shown in Berk’s research. In fact, he showed that it had a beneficial effect on patients with diabetes, helping control complications-such as heart attacks-associated with the chronic disease.
Berk’s research has inspired variations on laughercise as practiced by “The Laughter Yoga Institute” and others. At the Institute, laughter is blended with breathing exercises, stretching and cultivated playfulness. In this type of practice, laughter isn’t triggered necessarily by humor, but used specifically as a type of exercise with the goal of improving health.
Another proponent of laughter as exercise, Albert Nerenbeer, promotes “laughercize,” as well. In this process, laughter is seen a contagious experience which can build according to certain steps. Twenty minutes of this type of laughter is touted as effective as twenty minutes of exercise.
Berk hopes to continue research to understand the further health benefits of laughter and what specifically can be repeated in various contexts, including physical therapy, cancer treatment, and further diabetes research.
Why Laughter Might Be Medicinal, NPR
Laughter Remains Good Medicine, Science Daily