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Advance Access Publication 17 May 2007

eCAM 2008;5(1)37–40 doi:10.1093/ecam/nem041

Review

Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes

Mary Payne Bennett1 and Cecile Lengacher2

1Indiana State University College of Nursing and 2University of South Florida

This is part three of a four-part series reviewing the evidence on how humor influences physiological and psychological well-being. The first article included basic background information, definitions and a review of the theoretical underpinnings for this area of research. The second article discussed use of humor as a complementary therapy within various clinical samples, as well as evidence concerning how a sense of humor influences physiological and psychological wellbeing. This third article examines how laughter influences health outcomes; including muscle tension, cardio-respiratory functioning and various stress physiology measures.

Keywords: humor – health – laughter – physiology

Introduction

As discussed in the first two parts of this series, there has been some evidence that sense of humor and exposure to a humorous stimulus can influence specific health out- comes (1, 2). However, more conclusive evidence for possible physiological effects of humor is documented in studies that examine the actions of the natural outcome of humor—mirthful laughter. If humor has a role in physical healing, one might expect some measurable physical changes in response to the action of laughing. Over the years, several studies have been conducted to document various physiological outcomes related to laughter. Some of these investigations were conducted during the infant stages of psychoneuroimmunology theory, with little subsequent comment or replication effort. Most researchers in this area have noted that it is very difficult to obtain funding for humor studies, particularly those involving expensive physiological out- come measures. In addition, it should be noted that most of the early studies used all male samples, and all of the studies have small sample sizes. Given these limitations,

For reprints and all correspondence: Mary Payne Bennett, Indiana State University College of Nursing, 749 Chestnut Street, Terre Haute, IN 47809. E-mail: mbennett2@isugw.indstate.edu

we have outlined what is known about the physiological effects of laughter.

Laughter as Exercise

Many lay publications and websites claim that laughter is equivalent to some forms of aerobic exercise. A quick search of the Internet using the Google search engine, using the terms laughter and aerobic exercise turned up the following statements all on the first page of the search: ‘Laughter may have similar effects on the body as aerobic exercise. . . . increasing the blood flow in the same way as a bout of aerobic exercise . . . Laughter stimulates heart and blood circulation and is equivalent to any other standard aerobic exercise. But are any of these statements based on scientific research? The truth is, documentation supporting these assertions is very limited.

One very early report by Paskind et al. (3) examined the impact of laughter upon muscle tone. Unlike the effects of some exercise, it was demonstrated that periods of intense laughter lead to decreased skeletal muscle tone or relaxation of muscle groups. During laughter, various muscle groups are activated for periods of seconds at a time, while the period immediately after the laugh leads to general muscle relaxation. This post-laughter relaxa- tion can last up to 45 min (3).

  • 2007 The Author(s).

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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