University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Nicole Nisly, MD
Associate Professor of Internal Medicine
First Published: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Exercise regularly. Stay away from fried foods. Laugh more?
It doesn't seem like the typical prescription, but the benefits of
laughter may help keep the doctor away. Laughter has been touted by a
growing number of health care professionals as a form of exercise
that helps keep the body and mind fit.
"Laughter recently got a boost when researchers announced at an
American Heart Association meeting last November that heart-healthy
people are more likely to laugh frequently and heartily than those
with heart disease," says Nicole Nisly, MD, UI Hospitals and
Clinics Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clinic. "They are also
more likely to use humor to smooth over difficult situations.
"Exactly how laughter contributes to your health isn't entirely
understood, but evidence suggests that laughter may result in a
reduction of stress hormones leading to a reduction in blood
pressure. This in turn may reduce the risk of heart disease, Nisly
The benefits of laughter go beyond heart disease. Laughter has
been found to decrease tension and reduce pain. It also appears to
boost the body's production of infection-fighting antibodies.
Laughter even has the potential to help in the treatment of
depression and other emotional illnesses.
So what if you're among the group with Oscar the Grouch and
Scrooge? Not to worry. Laughter and humor can be learned. Humor
therapists suggest listening to tapes of funny jokes and stories,
taking a humor-meditation break during a tense part of the day, and
sharing laughter. You can also place a photo of a family event or a
cartoon clipping that makes you smile or laugh in plain view, or look
at funny photos of yourself.