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How laughter benefits blood pressure, memory & your brain

Lesley Dobson / 10 April 2015 ( 15 February 2019 )

There’s scientific evidence to show how laughter is good for your body and your mind.

Two mature men running on the beach laughing
Most types of laughter can count towards improving your health

How long is it since you had a good laugh? A belly laugh at some slapstick on the TV, a giggle with your friends, or the laughter that comes from nowhere when something funny and unexpected takes you by surprise? Most types of laughter can count towards improving your health.

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How laughing helps relax your blood vessels

Laughing is good for your blood vessels – those vital parts of your body that help keep the whole of you well and in good working order. It affects the endothelium, the inner lining of your blood vessels. And that’s important, because it’s your endothelium that makes your blood vessels tighten. This reduces the amount of blood around your body and raises your blood pressure. But your endothelium also makes your blood vessels relax, increasing the blood flow, and bringing your blood pressure down.

A small study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in Baltimore, found that laughing at a funny movie appears to affect the endothelium so that it relaxes (or dilates) and allows more blood to flow, lowering your blood pressure. 

This study and others also link the opposite - experiencing mental stress - to narrowing of blood vessels, which reduces blood flow and raises blood pressure.

Visit our blood pressure section

Can laughing improve your memory?

Clocking up the years can take its toll on our ability to remember, as can stress. But laughing can improve your memory and reduce your stress levels, and it seems it’s all down to cortisol, a stress hormone.

A small study carried out at Loma Linda University in California, asked half the participants to watch a funny video for 20 minutes. The other subjects in the study sat quietly for 20 minutes, without talking on their mobiles, reading or sleeping.

The researchers took measurements of the participants’ cortisol levels at different points and used a verbal learning test to check on how the different groups performed. The humour group won hands down. Their cortisol levels dropped, and their ability to recall information improved significantly – not bad for just watching something funny.

Five ways to supercharge your memory

Brain benefits of laughter

Another study from Loma Linda University found that humorous films help our brains in other ways. Watching funny videos triggered the volunteers’ brains to produce increased amounts of gamma waves. These are the same electrical impulses created in the brains of people who meditate, and which make them feel calm, content and happy.

In fact, research has found that when people were expecting to watch a comedy programme or film, this increased the levels of two hormones. One – beta-endorphins – has a positive effect on mood. The other, human growth hormone (HGH), helps improve your immunity.

Another, year-long, study involved two groups of people with diabetes. One group had their normal diabetes treatment, while members of the other group watched their pick of comedy programmes or films, as well as having their diabetes treatment.

One year on, those in the laughter group had lower levels of stress hormones, higher levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, and markers suggesting that they had lower levels of inflammation. And it doesn’t stop there.

Watch our video tutorial on laughter yoga

A good laugh

With laughter having the potential to improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones and increase HDL, the beneficial cholesterol, the chances are pretty high that it’s doing your heart good too. 

So find your funniest friend, radio or TV programme, or DVD, and laugh yourself happy and well.

A word of caution: if you are asthmatic, laughing too much can trigger an asthma attack. Smile and think positive thoughts and you can still feel good.

10 ways to lift your mood

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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