Laughter as Medicine

The healing powers of laughter are no joke

By Sabrina Jonas

Is laughter really the best medicine? Ask Albert Nerenberg, acclaimed director, journalist and one of the world’s top experts on laughter and you’re sure to get a serious response: Yes — there are myriad health benefits at the heart of a chortle.

Nerenberg does not advise chucking that prescription bottle, but the Canadian laughologist highlights the perks that the innate phenomenon of laughter has on the mind, body and soul.

“Laughter is a hedge against cardiovascular disease, an exercise in itself and a natural anti-depressant,” he says.

A Maryland School of Medicine study links laughing to the healthy function of blood vessels and a significant help with heart health. Laughter enables the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels to expand to increase blood flow, while stress has the opposite effect. Laughing naturally deters stress by metabolizing cortisol, one of the main stress hormones and contributors to heart disease. Think heart health and happiness.

If you dread the treadmill or if the thought of picking up a dumbbell leaves you sweating, don’t fret. “Laughercize,” invented by Nerenberg, is the revolutionary art of laughter combined with the joy of exercise. It entails a system of laughing exercises that works off natural human contagious laughter. Healthy breathing, relaxation and a rigorous ab workout result from these workshops — admit it, you check for a six-pack after a hearty bout of laughter.

Nerenberg continues to use laughter therapy in a number of Canadian drug and rehab centres — talk about a tough crowd. He says recovering addicts produce “crazy results” during these workshops. “Laughing produces dopamine in the brain much in the same way as cocaine,” he explains. Recovering addicts are pining for a rush and laughing gives them the most natural high there is.

“Laughter doesn’t need to cure cancer for it to be beneficial,” he says. “One of its most dramatic effects is its ability to reverse a bad mood.”

How is all this scientifically possible? Some dude named Charles Darwin mentioned that “even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.” Chalk this up to what we know now as “facial feedback hypothesis,” where studies have shown a forced smile can create the neurological equivalent of a real smile, and fake laughter provides the same, real benefit. “When you walk out into the world and smile, you change your brain chemistry to see more things to smile about.” The same can be said about laughter. You’re going to find more things funny and more things to be happy about. “You’re altering your world in a subtle, critical way.” This is empirical evidence that “faking it till you make it” is an attainable reality.

Whether it’s an “Alabama Knee-Slapper” or a belly laugh, Nerenberg suggests laughing whenever the opportunity presents itself. “Don’t stifle your laughter, go all the way.” Laughter gives you real tools to elevate your mood. “It is great medicine because it is free and universally accessible.” You heard it from the evangelist of laughing himself: A chuckle a day keeps the doctor at bay.


Summer 2019, Vol 11 N°3

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