You've probably heard that laughter is good medicine, but that doesn't mean you'll be asking for a stand-up comedian after you break your arm (after all, good medicine is also good medicine). Laughter does have many positive measurable effects on your body, however. When we laugh, our bodies respond positively. There is a decrease in stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and dopac) and an increase in beta-endorphins (which lower feelings of depression) and human growth hormone (which helps protect us against disease and infection).
Incredibly, it's not only laughter that changes our body's chemistry -- the mere anticipation of laughing does, too (when you're driving to see a funny movie, for instance) [source: American Physiological Society]. In fact, your brain will respond to laughter even if the laughter is faked.
Laughter also prompts our bodies to produce more T-cells and globulins, which bolster our immune systems. And the type of positive mindset that enjoys a good laugh may keep you chuckling for years to come. People who report general feelings of happiness tend to be healthier overall and live longer than unhappy people.
But can we laugh ourselves into shape?
By lowering cortisol levels, we may be shedding belly fat as well, or at least issuing fewer orders to store a protective spare tire around our central organs. Cortisol is a dieter's nightmare -- it prompts us to eat (stress eating, anyone?), lowers our post-meal metabolism and then stashes the fat in our midsection. People who are otherwise skinny but who have extra belly fat have measurably higher levels of cortisol, so laughing may help you finish the job that your diet started.
So how many calories get burned when we laugh? Can we chortle ourselves into a smaller pants size?
Laughing and Weight Loss
Before we talk about burning calories through laughter, it's important to understand that everything you do burns calories. You're burning calories right now reading this article, just by letting your body pump your heart, expand your lungs and perform all of the other duties required to keep you alive. A 150-pound (68-kilogram) person will burn about 22 calories just by reading for 15 minutes. Of course, adding a little aerobic effort to your ill-advised reading-for-exercise program will burn even more calories.
Here's how many calories you will burn (using a 150-pound (68-kilogram) person as an example) by doing the following activities for 15 minutes:
- Biking over 20 mph (32 kph): 273
- Jogging: 171
- Stationary bike: 170
- Downhill skiing: 102
- Ballroom dancing: 77
- Gardening: 68
- Shooting pool: 42
- Shopping: 40
- Driving: 34
- Typing: 25
That sounds like a lot of work, so let's take a closer look at laughing. Laughing helps burn calories by increasing your heart rate by 10 to 20 percent [source: Colmenares]. Your metabolism increases as well, meaning you will burn more calories at rest once you have stopped laughing. So exactly how many calories does laughing burn?
While the idea that we can melt our waistlines by laughing is an appealing one, we better not cancel our gym memberships just yet. Laughing for 15 minutes a day (and not necessarily all at once) burns somewhere between 10 and 40 calories a day [source: Buchowski]. That means that, so long as you're laughing, you can eat three -- maybe even four -- unsalted crackers without any guilt whatsoever.
Over the course of a laughter-filled year, the daily calories burnt from laughing result in a net loss of a little more than 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms). To add even more perspective to this, you burn more calories each day just by drinking eight glasses of water (70 calories). But everything helps, right?
Want more on laughter and the general health benefits of being happy? Try the next page.
- American Physiological Society. "Anticipating A Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. April 10, 2008.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080407114617.htm
- Buchowski, MS. "Energy expenditure of genuine laughter." International Journal of Obesity. 2007 Jan;31(1):131-7.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16652129
- Cigna. "Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn?" (May 11, 2009) http://www.cigna.com/healthinfo/tx4394.html
- Colmenares, Clinton. "No joke: Study finds laughing can burn calories." Reporter. June 10, 2005.http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/reporter/index.html?ID=4030
- Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Why Do We Laugh?" Nov. 25, 2002. (May 12, 2009)http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=51918
- Epel, Elissa S., PhD. "Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion Is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat." Psychosomatic Medicine, 62:623-632 (2000). http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/full/62/5/623
- Finn, Christian, M. Sc. "Cortisol and abdominal fat." (May 12, 2009) http://www.thefactsaboutfitness.com/news/cort.htm
- Purcell, Maud. "The Healing Power of Humor." Dec. 12, 2006. (May 12, 2009) http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/the-healing-power-of-humor/
- Rogers, Kara. "Why Do We Laugh, and Can It Really Help Healing?" July 10, 2008. (May 12, 2009)http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/07/funny-science-why-do-we-laugh-and-can-it-really-help-healing/
- The Fitness Partner Connection. "Activity Calorie Calculator." (May 11, 2009) http://primusweb.com/fitnesspartner/cgi-bin/fpc/actcalc.pl