If you think back to an occasion when something made you laugh out loud, you'll probably find your lips starting to twitch again and that same positive feeling invading your body. What you may not realise, though, is that this is good for you: both smiling and laughing actually have a beneficial effect on your health. Laughter, that physical sign that we are enjoying life, is one of the cheapest beauty treatments: it reduces stress, nourishes the spirit and is a natural antidepressant. So, let's take a look at the funny side of health:
Chemical, physical and more besides
Laughing triggers a chemical effect in the body, and makes it produce biochemical substances – endorphins – such as serotonin and adrenaline; these boost the immune system, activating the cells – the lymphocytes – and stimulating their division.
There's also a physical effect. A full-blown laugh-out-loud session mobilises and strengthens over 400 muscles; it gets the heart, abdomen and diaphragm working, and even the spleen, which helps to eliminate toxins. Not only that, but it aids digestion, reduces fatty acids, decreases pain and benefits breathing. One of its effects is a sort of massage on organs such as liver, kidneys, ovaries and intestines, and it causes a rush of energy to be distributed throughout the body, which stimulates and improves balance. When we laugh, our blood becomes charged with electromagnetic energy, improving circulation, and the bones of the spine and neck are stretched by as much as three centimetres!
When you laugh till you cry, it's really good for your eyes, having an effect on visual acuity and making you see colours more vividly. In fact, a good laugh clears not just the eyes but the ears and nose, too, and can improve your sense of smell.
The health benefits of laughter have long been recognised and there's even a World Laughter Organisation, based in Barcelona. Mari Cruz Garcia, the president and a laughter therapy expert, tells us, "Laughter develops imagination and creativity, fosters internal communication and learning, soothes anxiety and produces a facial massage so the skin receives an extra dose of oxygen, which has a rejuvenating effect. Five minutes of laughter acts as a pain reliever; laughing 100 times is equivalent to doing ten minutes aerobic exercise, and 20 seconds of laughter is equivalent to a three minute work out at the gym!"
Less stress, improved looks
Besides the physical benefits, then, laughter is an ally in the fight against stress and tension; it strengthens emotional growth and increases productivity. If you think how readily children burst into unrestrained laughter, it's probably not surprising to find that laughing is directly related to youth as well as beauty. According to Mari Cruz, "It's been shown that laughter affects appearance and beautifies the body: the face muscles and tissues (lips, cheeks, etc.) relax, and are exercised and toned, which leads to an over all improvement in skin condition."
She adds, "A person who laughs has a sparkle in his eyes and communicates his joy of life; this is very attractive to others and brightens the lives of those around." And that certainly sounds like something to smile about.