Sweet cachinnation

Photo by Flickr user XeuBix/used under Creative Commons license

Laughter is wine for the soul — laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness… the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.— Sean O’Casey from “Saturday Night” in Green Crows (Grosset & Dunlap, 1956)

The more you laugh the healthier you’re likely to be, physically and mentally. Or maybe healthier people laugh more, researchers still don’t know for sure. Regardless of which comes first, the relationship between seeing someone’s tongue stuck to an icy ski-lift handle and activity in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region associated with cocaine induced rapture, is of growing interest to the scientific community. And it seems the benefits of a good laugh go beyond the pleasure pathway.

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For example, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have demonstrated that laughter is linked to the healthy function of blood vessels, and seems to offset the deleterious effects of stress on the cardiovascular system.

The test findings led the University of Maryland School of Medicine investigators to conclude that laughter, at the very least, offsets the harmful effects of stress on the endothelium, and by extension, the whole cardiovascular system.

They also noted that these salutary cardiovascular effects were about equal to what you might expect of ten minutes on a rowing machine. The researchers were careful to point out, however, that they did not recommend dropping plans to work out to watch reruns of Comedy Central.

Earlier studies have found connections between laughter and a strong immune system, improved mental and emotional health, greater pain tolerance and speedier recovery from surgery or serious illness. The specific mechanism of these healthful changes is still a mystery. The movement of the diaphragm during a belly laugh, endorphin release, nitric oxide production (a substance that contributes to blood-vessel expansion), all might play a role.

Regardless of what makes you laugh, a growing body of data suggests that it’s a good idea to do it as frequently as possible.

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