When you chortle or giggle, i.e., when the laughter does not have a high intensity, there is no extra strain on the diaphragm, as it functions at its normal rate. However, the moment your giggle turns to a guffaw, things change!
With the exception of the cynics and those truly miserable people who fail to find any amusement in life, everyone loves a good laugh! We seek out funny movies, memes, and comedians that have us rolling in the aisles and smiling to ourselves at any time of day. We laugh until we cry, and sometimes, we even laugh so hard that we momentarily lose control of our bladder! Clearly, laughter has a lot of effects on us, and we’re willing to deal with them because the pleasure we get from a good, hearty laugh is such a wonderful feeling! In fact, laughter has a number of health benefits, from reducing stress and improving circulation, to boosting immunity. We’ll cover all of these points in this article.
Laughter is universal and unifying. It helps in breaking the ice and it’s notoriously contagious. If you see a person or a group of people laughing, odds are high that you might also join in on the laughter bandwagon. Laughing along helps us allay our worries, even just momentarily. It creates a feeling of lightness and lessens our burden of stress. That’s why so many hospitals and military bases invite comedians to make the ambience more light and joyful.
Now, the question for science geeks like us is this: what exactly happens inside our body as we giggle or chortle? Also, what makes our stomach hurt after a period of heavy, extended laughter? Let’s find out.
Why does my stomach hurt when I laugh?
When we laugh our whole body gets involved. Our jaws, our brain, our torso, our lungs, and even our blood vessels get into the action. As we ha-ha-ha, he-he-he, and ho-ho-ho, our vocal cords start vibrating. As we start to laugh harder, we tend to exhale more rapidly. Because of this, our rib cage starts to contract, which can trigger sharp pain in the intercostal muscles located between the ribs. In fact, intercostal muscles are jokingly referred to as the “hurts to laugh” muscle in the medical lexicon.
Thus, the ache you feel in your stomach when you laugh extremely hard is due to the rapid exercising of the diaphragm (below the lungs and just above the stomach), leading to pain in the intercostal muscles. When you chortle or giggle, i.e., when the laughter does not have a high intensity, then there is no excess strain on the diaphragm, so it continues to function normally. However, the moment your giggle turns into a guffaw, the diaphragm tenses up, the rib cage contracts, and the muscle gets a solid workout. It forces out the air all the way at the bottom of the lungs, which is why laughter is such a good aerobic exercise.
According to one research study conducted on the physical effects of laughter, uncontrollable howls of laughter can cause a calorie burn rate as high as 120 calories per hour. This is tantamount to the calorie burn when we walk at a brisk pace!
Why do I pee when I laugh?
You have almost certainly noticed that if you laugh really hard, you may end up wetting your pants—just a little! You can admit it… we’ve all been there! This is called incontinence. It happens because when you laugh very hard, your abdominal muscles contract, which forces any fluid stored in your bladder downwards through the sphincter muscle, which is usually contracted and holds in the urine. However, when your body is tensing and squeezing and reacting and laughing and crying all at the same time during a particularly funny movie, it may be hard to keep control of everything!
Now that you know the physiology behind abdominal pain and the inexorable pee drain after a bout of really hard laughter, let’s look into some of the good sides of a giggle.
Benefits of laughter: Is laughing good for you?
Laughter is an effective stress-buster. When we laugh, happy hormones called endorphins are released. This feel good chemical secretion can not only help in alleviating emotional pain, but also physical and psychological pain.
Laughter improves respiration and circulation. Oxygen (O2) is one of the important catalysts for generating biological energy in our body. We breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. To ensure that our lungs remain healthy, an adequate supply of oxygen is required. Generally, casual inhalation fills just one-fourth of our total lung capacity (tidal volume). The remaining three-fourths remain filled with old not-so-fresh air (residual volume). However, when we laugh, we breathe in deeply, filling our lungs with more fresh air filled with oxygen. This fires up our lungs and respiratory system, which in turn improves the circulation of oxygenated blood into the body. Improved circulation can bring a healthy glow to our face as the cells start to receive extra blood. Who knew that laughing can help you look younger for longer!
Studies also have revealed that people who have regular doses of laughter have higher levels of T-cells. T-cells are like our bodyguards that protect us from infection. Thus, people who laugh more have higher antibody cells, implying better immunity and a smaller chance of falling ill.
So, the next time your zany friend cracks a hilarious joke, sending you into a stomach-aching laugh attack, remember that it’s just the pain of an aerobic exercise that will benefit your lungs in the long run!