How’s this for a good laugh? Fits of laughter have been linked to reduced pain and mental stress, stronger social bonds, and improved immune system response    . But can a belly laugh actually improve cardiovascular health and land us hardy-har-hard abs? Cracking up can sure feel like a workout, and recent research suggests that it may actually be a reasonable form of exercise . But before swapping sneaks for Louis C.K. tickets, let’s see how those laughs really measure up.
Hit the Laugh Track — Why It Matters
Some gelotology findings (yup, there’s even a name for the study of LOLing) have shown laughter may produce some of the same positive effects as exercise. But how, exactly? In one study, researchers had 300 volunteers watch clips from either a stressful movie (“Saving Private Ryan”) or a comedy (“There’s Something About Mary” — remember the zipper scene?!) .
Besides the difference in audible tee-hees, results showed a 30 to 40 percent increase in diameter of the heart’s blood vessels during the funny scenes compared to the tense ones. And those changes to blood vessel dilation are similar to what’s seen during exercise, all part of an important process that helps the body regulate blood flow and reduce inflammation — clearly no laughing matter .
So should we spend an hour of our day cracking jokes instead of hitting the gym? To land the full benefits of exercise, it seems laughter alone isn't necessarily the best medicine.
Happily Ever Laughter? — The Answer/Debate
While classes in laughter yoga, which combine laughter outbursts with yogi breathing techniques, are growing in popularity, laugh-letics are still no sport. Research shows a person would have to be seriously in stitches (for hours on end) to see any real muscle toning or conditioning effects . And Cameron Diaz isn’t that funny.
For real health benefits, stick to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise four to five times per week, as recommend by the CDC. And let’s not forget all the other bonuses of a good laugh. Taking it way back, research suggests that laughter evolved to unite strangers and make friends . And more friends means a larger social support network — more recently linked to better health . So while laughter shouldn’t be considered a substitution to working out, LOLing does have its benefits. Go ahead, sit back (after that evening run!) and enjoy some well-earned laughs.
While a laugh attack sure feels good, there is little evidence that suggests laughing can effectively replace a workout.
What’s your favorite way to have a good laugh?
Illustration by Elaine Liu