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Whether you have a timid giggle or a hyena guffaw, when something or someone taps your funny bone, let the laughter erupt. It’s good for your physical and mental health, with both long- and short-term benefits. Better yet, it’s free and has no negative side effects.

Laughter doesn’t just make you make feel better emotionally in that moment, it actually triggers physical changes in your body. When laughing, you increase your intake of oxygen, which stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles and increases the endorphins released by your brain. It relaxes the body, which is always a good thing.

“Laughing can help your heart by kicking up your heart rate,” said Dr. Tariqshah Syed, Chief of Cardiology at Holy Name. “This helps decrease arterial wall stiffness, which can lead to heart disease. A good laugh is more beneficial than you might think.”

A hearty laugh also activates and relieves your stress response, which increases and then decreases your heart rate and blood pressure, giving you a feeling of relaxation. At the same time, it can stimulate your circulation and aid muscle relaxation, which also helps reduce the symptoms caused by stress.

Speaking of stress – let’s not forget cortisol, often called the stress hormone because it’s released whenever you go into the “fight or flight response” and at other challenging times. But it’s needed for basic bodily functions such as maintaining blood sugar levels and managing metabolism. Laughing helps regulate the all-important cortisol.

The benefits to your mental health are just as important. To start, laughing makes it easier to deal with difficult situations. Think about it: nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. It can also change your approach to a problem – looking at the funny side of a situation can add perspective and enable you to see possible solutions. And whether you want it to or not, laughter changes your mood. It’s hard to be angry when you’re doubled over laughing. It can also lessen depression and anxiety.

So feel free to laugh out loud, adding joy, vitality and resilience to your life. It also helps you connect with people and strengthen your relationships.

“Enhancing your emotional health always helps your physical wellbeing,” Dr. Syed said. “Laugh whenever you get the opportunity – it’s good for the body and mind.”