pain

Why laughter really might be the best medicine for aches and pains

Oct. 15, 2013 at 5:34 PM ET

funny jokes are good for you
Kerstin Claudia/flickr open/getty images /
laughter is the best medicine

There are so many sayings about laughter:

“Laugh and the world laughs with you.” (Most likely coined by a comedian)

“Laughing all the way to the bank.” (Probably said every hour, on the hour, by a Kardashian)

“Laughter is the best medicine.” (Which is apparently completely legit!)

According to research presented last week at The European Pain Federation Congress in Italy, laughter had such a profound effect with patients suffering from chronic pain that medical experts from Zurich University believe “humor interventions” should be incorporated into pain therapy. The Swiss professors asked study participants to place their hands in ice water—and those who were chuckling at funny movies kept their hands submerged longer than those who weren’t laughing it up. In fact, the level of pain tolerance continued as long as 20 minutes after the last chuckle occurred

Experts believe that a hearty giggle can encourage the release of endorphins (the feel-good hormones), which can alleviate muscle tension throughout the body. In other words, laughter is healthy for the mind and body.

The one caveat to this study—you can’t fake it. "Our studies show that only 'real' delight, actually experienced and accompanied by a Duchenne expression (a smile where the corners of the mouth face upward and the little wrinkles form around the eyes), leads to increased pain tolerance,” said Professor Willibald Ruch from Zurich University in a statement released to the press.

Laughter has been a proven natural remedy for years. Two studies presented at the 2009 American College of Sports Medicine found that it can reduce stress, improve blood flow and reduce the risk for high blood pressure. That same year, cardiologists discovered that a good sense of humor may have the ability to keep a heart attack at bay. And the Mayo Clinic cites a number of health benefits for a hearty snicker, including a boost in mood and in the immune system.  

I, for one, am a firm believer in the power of laughter. The best part of my day usually involves a case of the giggles. Whether I’m finding the humor from a friend’s story, from Modern Family or from my own life (there’s continuous material there), laughter makes every bad thought or feeling go away…even for just a moment. And (knock on wood) I am somehow rarely sick. Coincidence? I doubt it.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.

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