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Health benefits of laughing regularly

Last updated: February 2009

Laughter is contagious. But don't worry about spreading it around. Growing research suggests that regularly getting your giggles going offers several health benefits beyond the emotional ones. Specifically, laughing appears to:

Increase blood flow. Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center measured the blood-moving capacity of arteries after volunteers watched humorous or stressful films. After volunteers laughed through scenes from "There's Something About Mary" their arteries expanded, but they constricted after viewing battle scenes from "Saving Private Ryan." And in a small one-year study of heart-attack patients, those who watched comedies for 30 minutes a day were less likely to suffer a second heart attack than those who did not watch funny videos.

Lower blood sugar. People with type 2 diabetes maintain better blood sugar-control after watching comic performances, research suggests. A Japanese study of 10 people with the condition suggests that might stem from beneficial changes in immune regulation that prevent damaging inflammation from undermining blood-sugar control.

Regulate the immune system. In another small study, laughter significantly reduced levels of inflammation-triggering cytokines in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Other research suggests that after viewing humorous films, people with asthma become more resistant to flareups, those with allergies suffer fewer symptoms, and children with allergic skin rashes sleep more easily. A good laugh might also stimulate production of disease-fighting T cells and natural killer cells.

Burn calories. Laughing boosts energy expenditure by 10 to 20 percent, according to Vanderbilt University researchers. They calculated that 15 minutes of hearty laughter could burn up to 40 calories, enough to shed more than 4 pounds a year if done daily.

Ease pain. Laughter contracts and relaxes muscles in the abdomen, face, and shoulders, which might ease muscle tension and spasms that contribute to pain. And the temporary distraction helps too.

Recommendation: While 4-year-olds laugh about every 4 minutes, adults do it about once an hour. So spend time each day having fun. Trade jokes, watch comedies, horse around with your kids or grandkids, or share a laugh while in line at the grocery store. It will brighten your day-and maybe provide a much-appreciated dose of mirthful medicine.

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