Studies show laughter provides benefits in physical, mental and emotional health

Comedian Dean Bose had a 102 degree fever. He was in Billings, Mont. at the Billings Hotel and Convention center where he was expected to do a 30-minute set on stage. He could have canceled, but for Bose, that was out of the question.

“I felt miserable. I just wanted to die,” he said. “But all I really wanted to do was go on stage. I knew that would make me feel better.”

Bose was right. He did his set completely pain free, which he credits to the laughs of the audience.

“Comedy is a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “You stand in front of the crowd giving them something, but you also feed off of their energy and laughs. Both get something out of it.”

The medicinal effects that comedy had on Bose are actually quite common; research has shown that simply laughing can improve physical and mental health and provide social benefits as well.

In terms of fitness, laughing can be a surprisingly good work out: Research has shown that a belly laugh can work out the abdominal muscles and shoulders and even improve cardiovascular health. According to Dr. William Fry of Stanford University Medical School, laughing 100 times is equivalent to 10 minutes of working out on a rowing machine or an exercise bike. More information regarding the physical benefits of laughter can be found on the infographic below.

Laughter can be beneficial in terms of mental health as well. According to Helpguide.org, a non-profit website that provides health advice, laughter can trigger the release of endorphins, or what they call the body’s “natural feel good chemicals,” which can cause an overall sense of well-being throughout the body. Also, the British Dental Health Foundation found that laughing can provide the same stimulation to the brain as eating 2,000 chocolate bars.

Lindsey Mitchell, a 20-year-old from Pratt, Kan., goes to local comedy shows at least once a month. She says she can notice a difference in her mood after seeing a comedian perform.

“It’s kind of weird, because after leaving a comedy show you feel funnier yourself, and you definitely leave the show feeling more lighthearted too,” she said.

Mitchell also says she uses comedy and laughter for cathartic purposes, visiting clubs during times of stress.

“Seeing a comedian definitely helps bring down my stress levels a lot of times,” she said. “It may only last a little while, but you don’t really think about your own problems when somebody is consistently making you laugh.”

The benefits of laughter can extend outside a comedy club or a movie and into personal relationships as well.

According to Helpguide.org, laughter can help dissolve distressing emotions, as well as forget judgements, criticisms, and doubts, which could lead to healthier relationships.

Dr. Jeffrey Hall, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Kansas, has done multiple studies related to the use of humor in romantic relationships.

Hall says humor and laughter are crucial to a good relationship, but his research shows that not all types of jokes are conducive to making a happy couple.

“You don’t want to be self-deprecating or aggressive, attacking your partner humorously,” he said. “The kind of humor that works best is silliness. The playful humor where you can just share a laugh with your partner to get through the mundane parts of life.”

After 17 years of being a touring comedian, Bose has experienced first-hand how laughter can be a boost to a drained performer. But seeing the effects that a simple joke can have on an audience convinced him how valuable humor can be.

“Laughter is definitely psychologically beneficial,” he said. “There’s no doubt it’s enough to make you feel better.”

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