Laughter as good as a jog in the park

Laughter can do as much good for your body as a jog around the park, scientists in California have claimed.

Doctors describe “mirthful laughter” as “internal jogging” because it can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and boost the immune system — much like moderate exercise. Volunteers who were asked to watch 20 minutes of comedies and stand-up routines registered a dramatic drop in stress hormones, blood pressure and cholesterol. They also had their appetite stimulated, as happens with exercise.

Dr Lee Berk, from Loma Linda University, California, who led the study, said that emotions and behaviour had a physical impact on the body. He concluded “that the body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise. As the old biblical wisdom states, it may indeed be true that laughter is a good medicine.”

Dr Berk, who has been studying the effects of laughter for more than two decades, said that the ‘high’ people got from a giggling fit was similar to the endorphin rush from exercise. He has shown how it can reduce the risk of a heart attack and diabetes and regulate the body’s vital functions.

In the mid-1990s, Dr Berk found that laughter increased the number of cancer-killing cells in patients. For the latest study he had 14 volunteers watch an extract from a comedy. Blood samples taken afterwards showed a reduction in stress hormones and increase in immune T cells. Blood pressure was also down.

In 1997, Dr Berk performed experiments with diabetic heart patients. One group watched a comedy each day for one year, another did not. At the end of the year, the comedy-viewing group required less blood-pressure medication. Just 8pc of the comedy viewers had another heart attack, compared with 42pc of those who didn’t.

An earlier study by Dr Berk showed even the anticipation of a good laugh can benefit health, raising levels of feel-good endorphins and boosting the amounts of a hormone that helps our immune system fight infection.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)