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The Health Benefits Of Laughter

When I first discovered stand-up comedy, I was a teenager in high school.

I was overly self-conscious and didn't go out much on the weekends, so I often wound up in front of the TV until 2 a.m., watching the various stand-up specials aired on Comedy Central.

Before I finished my sophomore year, I had fallen in love with the realistically dark jokes of Lewis Black, Steven Wright and Marc Maron, as well as the whimsical sets of Demetri Martin and the pure vulgarity of Daniel Tosh.

I admired all of them, in their own ways. Not just because they were funny, but because they each offered very real comments about the world I was trying to figure out as a young teenager.

Since then, I've never outgrown my love of stand-up, and I doubt I ever will. Stand-up comedy is beneficial in that it is cathartic but also in so many other ways.

Whether you love stand-up as much as I do, or you're just "okay" with it, you might be surprised to learn these powerful benefits of the laughter it creates:

1. It can help relieves stress

Assuming you're watching or listening to stand-up that you find humorous, the laughter can effectively reduce your stress levels. Research suggests that laughter relieves stress by initiating and then abruptly cooling down your stress responses. What's more, simply anticipating a laugh can have powerful stress-relieving effects.

One study from 2008 found that, when anticipating laughter, subjects experienced lower levels of three stress hormones -- cortisol, epinephrine and dopac. The anticipation of laughter reduced these hormones by 39 percent, 70 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

2. It can help relieve pain

In addition to being a stress-reliever, stand-up comedy could also help with long-term pain management (see the Mayo Clinic article cited above). Laughing can cause your body to produce natural painkillers and may also relieve pain caused by muscle disorders by interfering with the "pain-spasm" cycle.

A 2011 study conducted by researchers from Oxford University showed that the more subjects laughed, the less pain they felt. The study also suggests that it's laughter itself, not just positive emotions, that aids in pain relief.