Laugh ’til it hurts (a little less)By Marilee Griffin • Published: January 14th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
What do a morning jog and a Seinfeld rerun have in common? One makes you sweat and one makes you giggle, but they could both increase your tolerance to pain.
This is only the latest similarity found between exercise and laughter. For one, laughter can be a form of exercise. We tend to think of it as an emotional experience rather than a physical activity, but laughing can also burn calories. When you’re having a good guffaw, the muscles in your diaphragm contract and air forcefully exhales from your lungs.
When this happens, your brain releases endorphins — just like it does with other forms of exercise. Endorphins are a natural opiate: chemicals that improve your mood. However, endorphins affect the body in another important way; they increase your pain threshold.
It’s obvious that less sensitivity to pain helps athletes, but could it also benefit the audience of a comedy club? Oxford researchers recently conducted a study to see if laughter can also increase your pain threshold.
They put volunteers through a few pain-inducing tests, such as a tightening blood pressure cuff. They recorded the amount of time each volunteer could endure these tests and had them watch a series of videos, both alone and as a group. Some of the videos were factual documentaries and others were comedy programs.
The volunteers then went through the pain tests again. For the volunteers who laughed in response to what they watched, their average pain threshold increased significantly.
However, a smile or a quiet chuckle won’t do the trick; to get a result, you need muscle contraction — in other words, a belly laugh.
So is laughter really the best medicine? Probably not. But it does give you a helpful boost of endorphins, so be sure to find time for it in your day.