Laughter is the best medicine. We have heard that expression time and again. For decades, researchers have explored how humor helps patients relieve stress and heal. And it's no joke. In a study published in Geriatrics and Gerontology International, laughter truly does have health benefits. It reduces pain and allows us to tolerate discomfort. It also reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and nondiabetics alike.

Feeling run down? Try laughing more. Some researchers think laughter just might be the best medicine, helping you feel better and putting that spring back in your step.

Karin Haugrud / Seniors on the Move
Karin Haugrud / Seniors on the Move

Humor is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. In addition to the domino effect of joy and amusement, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free and easy to use!

What happens when we laugh? According to WebMD, we change physiologically. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues. People who believe in the benefits of laughter say it can be like a mild workout — and may offer some of the same advantages as a workout. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused and alert.

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There is new evidence from the Journal of Neuroscience that laughter helps your blood vessels function better. It acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, causing vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. In other words, it's good for your heart and brain, two organs that require the steady flow of oxygen carried in the blood.

Laughter makes you feel good. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments and loss. More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh -- or even simply a smile -- can go a long way toward making you feel better. Just hearing laughter primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in on the fun.

This article is made possible with Older Americans Act dollars from the regional Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging. Call the Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433 to speak with an information specialist.