How Laughter Affects Every Part of Your Body

Animals make me laugh for some reason.  This is dedicated to my late dog Spanky who used to bark at me and play catch between sets while I was working out and my new cat Jack…who likes to bite me.

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“Seriously dude, I put my weights away!”

A falling anvil crushes a cuddly cartoon character; a grown man dresses like an elf; a dinner guest washes his face in the toilet.  Why do we laugh at this stuff?

Whatever the cause of a laugh, what happens next is not fully known.  Scientists are actually starting to put people into functional MRI machines and make them laugh in order to find out.

In a recent study at Stanford, researchers showed comics to people while their brains were monitored by an MRI.  The scientists were able to prove for the first time that laughter, or at least humor, stimulates the parts of our brain that use the “feel good” chemical messenger dopamine.  That puts laughter in the category of activities you want to do over and over again, such as eating chocolate…..or working out at The Lab!

EmoryUniversity neurologist Gregory Burns, states that dopamine systems that get out of whack can lead to addiction.  This finding explains then why kids want to keep playing silly games over and over until parents can’t stand it anymore.   And likewise, certain food addictions. Laughter is pleasurable, perhaps even “addictive,” to the brain.

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Whole Body Benefits
It’s all about incongruity, scientists say.  When we expect one thing and get another, the surprise triggers several different areas of the brain at once, causing our diaphragms to convulse and goofy sounds to come out of our mouth and sometimes mine comes out the other end.  And while people may make different noises and faces, laugh at different intensities, and have a different sense of humor, all the commands our brains give out as we laugh are exactly the same.

Here is what happens throughout the body:

Face: When we laugh, as many as 15 small muscles squeeze our faces into a smile. Increased blood flow there may turn us a bit pinker and give us a happy glow.

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Diets can really suck

Mouth:  Our mouths open to let our those “ha-ha” rhythmic blasts of vocalized air.  Plus, a LomaLindaUniversity study found that laughing episodes raised levels of disease-fighting immunoglobulins by 14 percent.  Other studies have found higher blood levels of killer T-cells, suggesting that laughter may raise our immune function.

Eyes:  If the laugh is vigorous enough, our tear ducts can activate.  Sometimes our glee can have a cumulative effect till we’re literally crying with joy-and studies show that tears, whether happy or sad, may reduce symptoms of stress.

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Vocal:  Our vocal equipment has to roll up its sleeves to produce our high-pitched hysteria.  The diaphragm, a strong muscle under the lungs, pumps down and up, filling the lungs and then blasting air out of them, up through the voice box to produce a laugh.  A hearty wallow is quite a workout for this system, requiring as much effort and volume as yelling.  Because the lungs are exchanging much more air than normal, they enrich the blood with oxygen.

Blood Vessels:  Our heart rate and blood pressure spike briefly when we laugh (especially when laughing while wrestling).  They increase a bit even when we chuckle while sitting in a chair watching a funny movie.  In addition to possible immune benefits noted, laughter also is evidenced to help diabetics keep their glucose levels in check.

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He applied for the Lab Rat position…but failed the drug test

Pain Reliever:  Whether in our gut or up in our brains, laughter seems to have an analgesic effect:  It increases our tolerance for pain.  Please don’t laugh during your sets as it can relax the afferent nervous system (sends information to the central nervous system…which coordinates your body and muscles)  and can destroy your set and not to mention make it very dangerous.  In fact during the set snarl, hiss, growl, grrrrrr and arrrrr.  But afterwards, go ahead and laugh it off.

Brainiac:  Beyond the physical perks, a few laughs can also sharpen your thinking.  Ron Berk, Ph.D., a recently retired psychologist from JohnsHopkinsMedicalSchool, started using jokes and gags to deter his students’ lecture-induced narcolepsy.  He soon noticed that his one-liners did more than keep them awake; they caused a spike in their test scores.  How does humor help us think?  Scientists are pretty sure it has to do with the way amusement stimulates the brain’s reward center.

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Belly Laughs:  A hearty laugh can cause us to double over and tense all our major muscle groups for minutes at a time, leading the researchers at LomaLindaUniversity to a simple conclusion: Laughter is exercise.  The heart rate and blood pressure go up while you’re laughing, but then they fall down below your baseline afterward, the same as with exercise.  This could be very important exercise, especially for elderly and sick people who can’t get out and run two miles.  Which must be my grandmother’s secret because she is damn funny and approaching 90.  Always blaming her dog for the farts she sneaks out.

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An early laughter researcher, William Fry, found that it took ten minutes on his rowing machine to elevate his heart rate to the same level provided by a good belly laugh, a finding that may have us rationalizing our way out of the gym and back to reruns of “Friends” or “I Love Lucy.”  Not likely plausible at this time, but if evidence present itself we will release The Lab’s Laser Lard Laugh Program.

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