The healing benefits of laughter

Key point

Healthier staff make healthier profits

Laughter is the physical response to humour. This bodily reaction is perhaps the greatest reason why business leaders should encourage more humour in the workplace. The health benefits have now been measured. The adage ‘laughter is the best medicine’ is no longer an old wives’ tale. It is now backed by evidence-based research.

Called internal jogging, laughter uses 312 intercostal muscles. Laughter gives the cardiovascular system and lungs such a good workout that three minutes of laughing will burn as many calories as ten minutes of aerobics. This increase in oxygen allows the body’s natural healing processes to work more efficiently. The improved circulation serves to flush toxins. Laughing brings in the good, and takes out the bad.

When laughing, there is a set of biochemical and physiological responses:

  • The immune system is boosted as immunoglobulin A is released
  • Cortisol, the adrenalin associated with stress, is neutralised and decreased
  • Natural endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, are released; these are anti–inflammatory and encourage muscle relaxation in the scalp, shoulders, arms, abdomen, legs and neck
  • Muscle toning occurs in the face, retarding the aging process
  • The production of lymphocytes containing T-cells that attack cancer cells is stimulated
  • The blood benefits from increased oxygen
  • Tear ducts open; the tears of laughter are full of antibodies, acting as the first barrier to bacterial infection
  • Glucose is processed better
  • Research shows that people who laugh will sleep better
  • Blood pressure, an indicator of stress levels, is reduced after a laugh.

Laughter reduces stress. Laughter increases health.

ILL = acronym for I Lack Laughter

This last effect is particularly significant, as stress is a prime factor in determining whether many illnesses will manifest or not.

Laughter, with its effect on the cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, endocrine and central nervous systems has beneficial effects on conditions as diverse as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, insomnia, type 2 diabetes, depression, back ache, heart disease and cancer.

Moreover, studies show that not only is laughter preventative, its resultant sense of wellbeing can greatly reduce treatment time.


Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore compared the effects of watching funny and stressful films. Stressful films caused blood flow to slow by around 35 per cent, but funny ones increased it by around 22 per cent, they told the American College of Cardiology.

‘Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system’ says Michael Miller of the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Quite simply, those who laugh, last!

Also see the topic on Stress Management.