The Rumor: Laughter is the best medicine

The best part of hanging out with my nieces and nephews isn't the glittery nail polish or scratch-and-sniff stickers I'm inevitably adorned with, but how those kids supercharge my spirit. Knock-knock jokes, whispered secrets and madly kicked soccer balls make us collapse in giggles and belly laughs, which rarely happens when I'm grocery shopping or paying the bills.  

It's obvious that laughter lightens my mood, but are there deeper benefits as well? Could it help my health?

The Verdict: Laughter is actually pretty good medicine!

It might not be the best medicine, but it's indeed an effective immune-booster, with hundreds of scientific studies backing up the physical benefits of LOLing. Seems improbable that we can enhance our actual physiology just by laughing, but researchers around the world have shown this to be true. It's no joke: Laughter has been clinically proven to...

Even the Mayo Clinic recommends laughter as a stress-busting health tonic, and more than 350 laughter studies prove the point.

So what's the serious science behind all this levity? "Laughter releases endorphins -- the same neurotransmitters responsible for a runner's high," says Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "It can also counter the effects of stress, which can make us more susceptible to illness and wreak havoc on pretty much every organ system in the body." 

A good guffaw stretches muscles in our face and body, pushes more oxygen through our system and elevates our heart rate to near-exercise levels. You can almost think of it as free universal healthcare. "Laughter connects us to others," says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at California State University Los Angeles. "If you're laughing loudly, others may smile and share in the laughter, too." In other words, laughter is contagious. So beware: Once you get going, a (healthy) epidemic might ensue!

To increase the benefits, amp up your daily laughter any way you can. Listen to a comedy podcast while you're getting ready in the morning. Tune in to your favorite funny radio show during your commute. In the afternoon, take a short work break and dial Laughter Yoga On The Phone, which focuses on "uniting people the world over in remarkable, spontaneous and hilarious sessions of healing and health." 

Evenings and weekends, you can Laughercize, watch Laughology, road-trip to the Canadian competitive-laughing championship or try the ancient Inuit game of Iglagunerk, wherein two players grasp hands and laugh (the one who laughs longest and hardest, wins). Personally, I absolutely love the Laughing Yogi, a true master of the art of Laughter Yoga (aka Hasya Yoga).

And don't worry about forcing it, either: According to Susan J. Gonzalez, RN, coauthor of 100 Perks of Having Cancer plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It, "fake it 'till you make it" holds true when it comes to laughing. "The interesting thing is that it really doesn’t matter if you have something to smile about or not," she writes. "Your body cannot tell the difference between a forced smile or a nervous laugh and the real thing. You still get the great physiological and mental benefits from both."