There is a growing body of research indicating that a good guffaw may improve immune function, help lower blood pressure, boost mood and reduce stress and depression. And despite a dearth of more rigorous, long-term studies, the sum of these findings is compelling, says cardiologist Michael Miller, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who has researched the topic.
A new study from Oxford University supports a long-held theory that laughter triggers an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals that can help you feel good, distract you from pain and maybe deliver other health benefits.
The study reports on six experiments in which people watched television sitcoms or a live comedy performance, either alone or with others. The participants were then subjected to various measures that prompt discomfort, including wearing an ice-cold sleeve or a tight blood-pressure cuff and squatting against a wall for long periods. In all cases, laughing with buddies for just 15 minutes resulted in an average 10 percent increase in pain threshold. A change in affect alone — in other words, getting happy but not laughing out loud — did not have a significant impact on pain sensations.