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It’s no joke: laughter really is the best medicine. A new study from Oxford University shows that laughing till it hurts can, ironically, help ease aches and pains.
Researchers found that deep belly laughs stimulate the release of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins -- the neurotransmitters that give runners, junkies and shopaholics alike a high when engaging in their activity of choice. Those endorphins don’t just give off a happy glow -- they’re also the body’s natural form of morphine. (Here, 10 more ways to get an endorphin boost).
The study found that people who laughed out loud to comedy clips or stand-up routines boosted their pain tolerance by 10 percent in just 15 minutes. Those who laughed the most got the biggest benefit. Kind of makes you wonder if people with indiscriminate senses of humor feel no pain—ever.
Previous research has shown that laughter kicks our pain threshold up a notch, but this study wanted to figure out if it was the physical act of laughing, or the good mood it produced, that helped cancel out aches. To do so, they also had volunteers watch feel-good, warm-and-fuzzy nature clips that didn’t lend themselves to chuckles or guffaws. Those people did not boost their pain tolerance when scientists subjected them to the mild torture sessions, such as placing a too-tight blood pressure cuff or a deep-freeze wine-chilling sleeve around the arm, or making them stand against the wall with their thighs parallel to the floor (a move that will make your quads tremble and burn as you beg for mercy).
The scientists, who may have their own twisted sense of humor, conducted their pain experiments on the volunteers both before and after watching the various video clips, in order to assess their pain threshold both under the influence of laughter and while stone-cold sober (in the non-alcoholic sense, that is).
Another key finding: Laughing with people alleviated pain better than laughing alone. As the study’s lead researcher, Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, told The New York Times, laughter may likely stimulate the reward area of the brain and make us feel so good, because it helps bring humans together. And strong social bonds, from an evolutionary standpoint, were key to survival. Even chimps use laughter to make friends and influence people.
Maybe we don’t need laughter to survive these days, but life without laughter doesn’t really feel like one much worth living. Plus, did we mention it burns calories? Not that we recommend incorporating it into your workout, unless you want to look like this crazy lady -- and our guess is, you really, really don’t.