Laughter as a Form of Exercise

10/27/2012

 

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I’ve written about Laughter Yoga before. It's a yoga practice which consists of nothing else but laughter.

Laughing makes you feel good. It releases endorphins and reminds us not to take ourselves so seriously. 

A study published in the Proceeding of the Royal B at Oxford University speaks to the effectiveness of laughter, specifically laughing in a group. 

Researchers recruited a large group of undergraduate men and women for a laugher study. The study was based around the idea that laughter isn’t just a response to something funny, it’s a form of physical exertion or exercise that causes a similar physiological response. 

Studying Laughter

The New York Times reports: 

“Laughter involves the repeated, forceful exhalation of breath from the lungs,” says Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford, who led the study. “The muscles of the diaphragm have to work very hard.” We’ve all heard the phrase “laugh until it hurts,” he points out. That pain isn’t metaphoric; prolonged laughing can be painful and exhausting.

Dr. Dunbar's study participants watched short videos of either a comic or dryly factual nature, either alone or with a group. Afterwards, volunteers submitted to a pain threshold test of how long they could endure a blood pressure cuff or frozen cooling sleeve. 

Again, The New York Times reports: "The decision to introduce pain into this otherwise fun-loving study stems from one of the more well-established effects of strenuous exercise: that it causes the body to release endorphins, or natural opiates. Endorphins are known “to play a crucial role in the management of pain,” the study authors write, and, like other opiates, to induce a feeling of euphoric calm and well-being (they are believed to play a role in “runner’s high”)."

The more pain participants could endure, the more endorphins produced in the prior experiment. Pain thresholds were higher after the comic video. But they were even higher after watching the funny video with a group. The physiological reactions from a good belly laugh with a group were similar to those after group exercise like rowing or team sports. 

This is why Laughter Yoga seems so effective--it’s a group activity involving belly laughter. According to Psychology Today, laughter also helps your blood vessels function more efficiently, allowing the more expanded movement of blood, which helps us relax. So laugh out loud -- it’s good for you!

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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