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April 29, 2010 / Katie

Laughter makes us hungry; which means laughter is like exercise

I stumbled across this interesting story about laughter affecting the body like exercise.  I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I have experienced times where I laughed so hard that my stomach muscles began aching and I knew that was a workout.  I’ve also experienced a rise in my emotional mood after a good laughing session similar to a stint on the elliptical.

So I was excited to read this story:

Researchers measured the hormone levels of 14 volunteers before and after they watched a distressing or hilarious video clip. The researchers were particularly interested in two hormones known to regulate appetite: ghrelin, which spurs hunger, and leptin, which cues satiety.

The appetite hormones did not change significantly as people watched the upsetting video (the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.”)

But after the amusing video clip — either of stand-up comedians or a funny film — hormone levels changed as if the participant had engaged in moderate physical exercise. Specifically, ghrelin levels rose and leptin levels fell, indicating a possible increase in appetite. The lower leptin levels would mean the body isn’t getting the “I’m full” message.

Overall, the finding adds to the understanding “that the body’s response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise,” said study researcher Lee Berk of Loma Linda University in California in a press statement.

One thing that particularly excites me about this story is that they are acknowledging that exercise makes us hungry.  So often we are told to “exercise more and eat less” as the way to good health, but exercise makes us hungry! It uses energy—calories—and means that we need more.   And another thing that excites me about this story is that there’s no mention of eating restriction.  There’s no caveat at the end saying, “be careful, fatties, if you laugh too much you’ll eat too much; only depressing movies for you!”  In fact, the article wraps up on this awesome note:

Although changes in appetite were not directly assessed, by, say, recording what people ate, the finding could help doctors treat patients who are suffering from loss of appetite but are too ill to exercise, explained Berk.

“It may indeed be true that laughter is good medicine,” he said.

yes indeed.

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4 Comments

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  1. Cleric at Large / Apr 29 2010 9:07 am

    I know I have my bias- but I read this as a wonderfully designed evolutionary system for keeping us longer at the table among pleasant company.

  2. LexieDi / Apr 29 2010 3:51 pm

    Haha! I love this! It’s especially good news for me: A fatty with a tickle fetish. I don’t really like getting up and working out unless it’s a beautiful day and I have a jump rope or something. I do, however, LOVE getting tickled and laughing. It’s great that not only is it fun for me, it’s good for me!

  3. bananacat / May 3 2010 8:17 pm

    This is sort of tangential, but I often hear people saying that exercise raises their mood and makes them feel good. This never, ever works for me. It makes me feel hungrier, but in general makes me feel worse. Am I really the only person who feels worse after exercise?

    • katiestickney / May 3 2010 9:45 pm

      I was listening to an NPR podcast about this ages ago (if I had the reference, I’d link it, but I don’t, sorry!) about the endorphine release in exercise. They were interviewing a doctor who talked about the positive mood effects of exercise in the majority of people. One thing they said is that everyone has a different threshold for when they notice the effects, based on duration and intensity, and the effects are stronger for some than others. Another thing they said was that a not-insignificant minority don’t appear to have this mood-enhancing release at all. Something like 5-10% of people. So, you’re probably one of those people… and no, you are not the only one!

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