Friday, 26 April 2013


The Funny Work-Out

     Why is laughter the best medicine? Why do we attempt humour as a way to distract our minds from distress every day? A new field called Psychoneuroimmunology, which is a multi-disciplinary area of study that uses the principles of psychology, neuroscience and immunology has explored the causes, function and brain areas responsible for laughter. Doesn’t sound like much of a laughing matter now, does it!

     It appears that heart-felt laughter, which is usually elicited at something funny, releases endorphins into our blood-stream, making us experience a general feeling of well-being. These endorphins also act as analgesic and hence reduce our perception of pain! 

     In an interesting study by Dr. Dunbar and colleagues at Oxford University, two groups of people were first tested on their pain threshold, that is, an indication of how much pain they can normally withstand. These two groups were then shown either comical videos, or serious, fact-filled documentaries. The group of people who watched the funny videos were observed to laugh from their bellies, (which the researchers say is equal to physical exercise since it leads to muscle exertion, increased blood pressure and heart rate!) thereby releasing endorphins into their bloodstream. As a result, their pain threshold increased, i.e., they could withstand more pain! But the second group of people who watched serious documentaries felt as much pain as they did before. In the same study, it was also noticed that people laughed more readily and intensely when in a group and their pain threshold increased even more in a group viewing of the videos than individual viewing.

     There is a type of laughter which occurs in polite social company, when we laugh to accompany someone else out of courtesy or to pleasant information which may not particularly be funny. Such kind of laughter does not elicit the kind of repeated, exerted exhalations of breath that belly laughs involve, and hence do not qualify as “exercise”. Nonetheless, any kind of laughter acts as a great emotional coping mechanism as it reduces the level of stress hormones in the body and promotes relaxation. The positive state of mind that follows offers us more creative problem solving abilities.