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Surprising Science

More than an Emotion, Laughter is Exercise

New research from Oxford University concludes that the physical effect of laughing helps us enjoy a funny moment, just as physical exercise helps us feel better emotionally. 

What’s the Latest Development?

In a new study on laughter led by evolutionary psychologists at Oxford University, the importance of laughing as a physical activity was seen in its ability to reduce feelings of pain. The good feeling that results from laughing, say researchers, is brought on by the same physical activity we undergo when we exercise. This is because the sustained contraction of our muscles—such as the movement of our abdomen when we laugh heartily—release endorphins, opiates that occur naturally in the body and help us to feel good and dull the edge of pain.  

What’s the Big Idea?

The new study is relevant to those who already exercise because biological changes that occur as a result of physical activity, which includes laughing, are stronger in groups. A 2009 experiment showed that the endorphin level of rowers were higher when they exercised in groups versus rowing alone. “So if you typically run or bike alone, perhaps consider finding a partner. Your endorphin response might rise and, at least theoretically, render that unpleasant final hill a bit less daunting. Or if you prefer exercising alone, perhaps occasionally entertain yourself with a good joke.”

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