By Kris DeFoer
You’ve heard the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine,” right? Researchers from the University Of Maryland School of Medicine wanted to know how that works. To find out, they showed scenes from movies to their participants. Half the group saw comedy scenes, the other half saw stressful ones.
Those moviegoers who watched the stressful film experienced narrowing of their blood vessels, with blood flow being constricted by an average of 35%.
Conversely, the blood vessels of those who saw the comedy expanded, and their blood flow was increased by about 22%. From watching a MOVIE.
If these sorts of physiological changes happen when we’re watching a movie, what in the world are our bodies experiencing in real life?
When we’re under stress, real or perceived, the flow of cortisol through the body is increased. Cortisol is a hormone whose function is to deal with immediate threats.
Think about the ability of the mother whose child is in danger to do whatever it takes to protect that child. But we were never meant to live with a constant flow of cortisol through our systems, and that’s exactly what we get when we’re in a perpetually stressful state. Excess cortisol increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes, and decreases immune function, leaving us more likely to catch every little bug that goes around. And it probably goes without saying that someone in this state doesn’t laugh much.
On the other end of the scale is serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter, increasing happiness and that good-mood feeling, and is increased when we laugh.
We feel good, so we laugh more, and our serotonin levels increase and we feel good… that’s the kind of merry-go-round to be on! Healthy serotonin levels reduce stress and anxiety and help with sleep and appetite control. And when we laugh, that expanded blood flow reduces cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and allows oxygen to flow more freely through the body, which relaxes muscles, increases immunity and makes our energy soar.
So, how do we move off the cortisol train (wreck), and onto the serotonin merry-go-round? See a funny movie, watch a baby human or animal, get with your friends and just act silly. Tell jokes. Look for funny videos on YouTube. Take a break and don’t take anything too seriously.
Good health involves eating right and exercising, for sure. But let’s not forget that caring for our inner health affects our physical health. And what more enjoyable way to get healthy than a good belly laugh!
Kris DeFoer is a certified Holistic Health Coach who works with women individually and in groups, to help them re-discover their natural health and vitality. She believes that healthy living should be fun, that healthy food should taste good, and that good health is about much, much more than eating well and exercising – that how we live has an enormous impact on how we feel.