How the benefits of laughter can improve your health

Everyone loves laughter – and now you can guffaw knowing you’re improving your health.

There’s nothing like a fit of giggles with your friends or a belly laugh over your favourite sitcom. And the good news is, it’s good for your health.

A recent study by professor Marco Saffi, of the Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre in Brazil, showed that patients with coronary heart disease displayed reduced inflammation and better health after watching comedy programmes. This was compared to those who were shown serious documentaries.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam, the world’s largest heart conference.

“Our study found that laughter therapy increased the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system,” said Saffi. “Laughter helps the heart because it releases endorphins, which reduce inflammation and helps the heart and blood vessels relax. It also reduces the levels of stress hormones, which place strain on the heart.”

And although the study covered only 26 adults with an average age of 64, other studies have shown the benefits of laughter on health and wellbeing.

A report in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine concluded that research has shown “the physical act of laughing, even without humour, is linked to chemical changes in the body that potentially reduce stress and increase pain tolerance.

“Whereas laughter and humour were once thought of as nearly interchangeable, laughter is now a distinct physical action that can be effective on its own.”

How to get more laughter in your life

In his presentation, Saffi said that laughter therapy could be made more available to patients at risk of heart problems. “Laughter therapy could be implemented in institutions and health systems like the NHS for patients at risk of heart problems.

“It does not have to be TV programmes – people with heart disease could be invited to comedy evenings, or encouraged to enjoy fun evenings with friends and family. People should try to do things that make them laugh at least twice a week.”

Increased research into the benefits of laughter has also led to a number of therapies and exercises being available to help people get the giggles, one of which is laughter yoga.

How about laughter yoga?

It might sound like a strange form of exercise, but yoga laughter is becoming more and more popular. Sylvia Tillman runs laughter yoga classes for Rest Less Events, which provides online classes and events aimed at the over-50s.

She says that she’s constantly seeing the benefits of laughter on her clients: “We compare the mood before and after a session, on a scale from 0 to 10, and all participants move up by at least three points.”

You don’t have to laugh with strangers

If you feel a little self-conscious about getting your laugh on with people you don’t know, you can still enjoy the benefits of laughter.

Jessica Shaw, director of PACT Creative Training, says they organise group training events for companies and adult groups, based on being playful and having fun. You can organise an event with friends or even the residents of a care home, meaning you’ll know those in the group and will hopefully feel more comfortable.

“We are sensitive to the needs of each group, and tailor a session to ensure enjoyment for all, taking into consideration the particular challenges that may arise with an older age group,” says Shaw.

Feedback from my sessions has shown people experiencing a sense of connection and belonging, and also a sense of being ‘oneself’ – being humorous and having fun, and not being seen as their ‘age’,” she says. “People have also reported feeling joyful, happy and calm, and having enjoyed being creative and having fun for its own sake.”

10 comedy shows guaranteed to get you giggling

If you’d prefer to keep the benefits of laughter to yourself, rather than a group setting, tune in to one of these shows to maximise the mirth.

Grace and Frankie, Netflix

They’re not friends, but when their husbands leave them to be with each other, prim and proper Grace (Jane Fonda) and eccentric Frankie (Lily Tomlin) form an unlikely friendship. 

Only Fools and Horses, various platforms

Classic multi-award-winning sitcom that put David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst firmly on our radar, as well as launching a multitude of one-liners, still quoted today (“Mange tout, mange tout”, “I’m a black belt in origami”).

Even if you’ve seen many episodes before, you’re bound to laugh revisiting this show. And if you’re a fan of Nicholas Lyndhurst, keep an eye out for the new series of Frasier (another classic comedy worth revisiting), as he’s joining the cast for the new season that is due later this year.

Shrinking, Apple TV+

Jason Segel is a grieving therapist who decides to use brutal honesty while dealing with his patients. Harrison Ford plays his grumpy senior colleague trying to keep him on the straight and narrow while dealing with his own issues.

When Harry Met Sally, BBC iPlayer

Always worth a watch, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal play long-time friends trying to work out if a romantic relationship would ruin their friendship.

Bank of Dave, Netflix

Featuring the fabulous Rory Kinnear, this film is based on the true story of Dave Fishwick, a self-made millionaire from Burnley who fought to set up a community bank.

Yes Minister, various platforms

A very British political satire sitcom, set mainly in the office of a cabinet minister. It features Nigel Hawthorne, Paul Eddington and Derek Fowlds.

Birds of a Feather, ITV X

Three very different women are thrust together when Sharon (Pauline Quirke) moves in with her sister Tracey (Linda Robson) after their husbands are sent to prison. Enter Dorien (Lesley Joseph), the posh neighbour, and the laughs keep coming.

Schitt’s Creek, Netflix

Created by funny father and son duo, Eugene and Dan Levy, this series follows the mega-rich Rose family who lose everything and are forced to move to their remaining asset – a remote town called Schitt’s Creek.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, in cinemas September 8

The Portokalos family returns as they head to Greece for a family reunion, which is full of heartwarming and hilarious twists and turns.

Benidorm, Netflix and ITV X

A wealth of characters feature who are working or holidaying in the Solana Resort in Benidorm. Sherrie Hewson, Tim Healey, Siobhan Finneran and Steve Pemberton all star.

Written by Michaela Twite she/her