Knock, Knock. How’s Your Cognitive Health?

Why did the brain go running?
It wanted to jog its memory!

August 16th is Tell a Joke Day!

Admittedly, we’re not the authority on telling jokes but as a global authority on cognitive health, we’re here to tell you that sharing a laugh is good for your brain wellness.

There are several risk factors for dementia and while age is a top risk factor and can’t be changed, you can change other factors to decrease cognitive decline, such as reducing stress and having more social interaction, which can be achieved with laughing.

Processing a Joke

According to the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, the prefrontal cortex plays a vital role in the flexible thinking required to “get” a joke. This region of the frontal lobe:

  1. Processes sensory information gathered by our eyes, ears, and other senses, then combines this information in a manner that helps us form useful, behavior-guiding judgments.
  2. Oversees the processing needed for planning complex cognitive behaviors, showing personality characteristics, and moderating social behavior.
  3. Helps us make sense of a joke’s punch line by sending signals along with connections to both the supplementary motor area and the nucleus accumbens, producing a strong sense of surprise and eliciting laughter.

Why You Should Share Laughter

Laughter is good for your cognitive health because it:

  • Brings people together

    Several studies have shown that laughter, a form of non-verbal communication, increases social bonds. According to social psychologist Sara Algoe, who co-authored one such study with Laura Kurtz, “For people who are laughing together, shared laughter signals that they see the world in the same way, and it momentarily boosts their sense of connection.”

    Laughter can also help de-escalate negative emotions and help relationships; “couples who reported the highest levels of marital satisfaction also showed the most ‘skillful’ use of positive affect (e.g. laughter) to regulate negative emotions during a difficult conversation.”

    Algoe encourages people to find ways to laugh together whether it is between couples or among colleagues in a staff meeting, as it boosts closeness, establishes bonds, and ensures everyone is on the same page.

    And by sharing laughter with those around you, you’ll increase social interaction, improve brain function, and help prevent dementia.

  • Decreases stress

    According to Lee Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University in California, laughter shuts down the release of stress hormones like cortisol. It also triggers the production of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, which have calming and anti-anxiety benefits.

    Studies have also shown that laughter is a positive emotion that can be effective in reducing stressful reactions to negative emotions such as fear and anger. Additionally, it can soothe tension by stimulating circulation and helping muscles relax, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    This means that with laughing, you’ll decrease your stress levels, help manage high blood pressure, which in turn can help dementia prevention.

  • Has antidepressant effects

    Did you know that failure to treat depression is estimated to account for 4 percent of dementia occurrence?

    Depression is a serious mood disorder caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

    As a non-invasive alternative treatment for depression, laughter has a similar effect to antidepressants as it can help improve your mood and make you feel better by releasing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

  • Lowers blood sugar levels

    Research studies have found that adults with Type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Diabetes also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are linked to dementia.

    A Japanese study found that people who attended a live comedy show after a meal had lower blood sugar levels than those who attended a monotonous lecture without humorous content.

    In its conclusion, the study, indicated when laughing, the body uses up more blood sugar and “suggests the importance of daily opportunities for laughter in patients with diabetes,” which in turn lowers your dementia risk.

  • Reduces risk of heart attack and stroke

    “When you laugh for 15 minutes, the increase in the diameter of the blood vessel is similar to what you get when you run, jog or do an aerobic-like activity,” said Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

    In one of his studies, Dr. Miller found that laughter helps blood vessels function better as it expands the tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels, known as the endothelium, to allow more blood flow.

    “The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, so, given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Miller. “At the very least, laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”

    Studies have shown that risk factors for heart disease are linked to dementia. By laughing, you help your heart and your cognitive health too.

Improve and Test Your Cognitive Health

Here’s another joke to share with your friends:

Why didn’t the brain want to take a bath?
It didn’t want to be brainwashed!

If laughing isn’t really your thing, you can achieve its benefits in other ways. Dr. Berk groups laughter with other traditional healthy lifestyle activities. “Many of these same things also happen when you sleep right, eat right, and exercise,” he said. And according to studies, changing modifiable lifestyle factors have shown to prevent a third of dementia cases globally.

Whether it is celebrating “Tell a Joke Day” with a joke or two and sharing a few chuckles with friends, or going out for a run, or eating healthy, we encourage you to find activities to improve your brain health!

Curious to know if laughing (or other healthy lifestyle activities) has helped your cognitive health? Test your brain wellness regularly with Savonix.


References

Sauer, A. (2014, August 13). Laughter for Alzheimer’s Prevention. Alzheimer’s Net. Retrieved from https://www.alzheimers.net/8-13-14-laughter-and-alzheimers

DiSalvo, D. (2017, June 5). Six Science-Based Reasons Why Laughter Is The Best Medicine. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2017/06/05/six-science-based-reasons-why-laughter-is-the-best-medicine/#18f494707f04

Heid, M. (2014, November 9). You Asked: Does Laughing Have Real Health Benefits? Dr. Lee Berk Website. Retrieved from http://www.dr-lee-berk.com/real-health-benefits/#.Xy6GuxNKh0s

Brain Jokes. (n.d.). University of Washington. Retrieved from https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/jokes.html

Suttie, J. (2017, July 17). How Laughter Brings Us Together. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_laughter_brings_us_together

Dunbar, R. I., Baron, R., Frangou, A., Pearce, E., van Leeuwen, E. J., Stow, J., Partridge, G., MacDonald, I., Barra, V., & van Vugt, M. (2012). Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold. Proceedings. Biological sciences279(1731), 1161–1167. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2011.1373

Algoe, S., Kurtz, L. (2017). When Sharing a Laugh Means Sharing More: Testing the Role of Shared Laughter on Short-Term Interpersonal Consequences. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. https://www.springerprofessional.de/en/when-sharing-a-laugh-means-sharing-more-testing-the-role-of-shar/11733488

Scott, S. K., Lavan, N., Chen, S., McGettigan, C. (2014). The social life of laughter. Trends in cognitive sciences18(12), 618–620. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2014.09.002

Yuan, J. W., McCarthy, M., Holley, S. R., & Levenson, R. W. (2010). Physiological down-regulation and positive emotion in marital interaction. Emotion (Washington, D.C.)10(4), 467–474. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018699

Humor, Laughter, and Those Aha Moments. (2010). On the Brain. The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter. Retrieved from https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/HMS_OTB_Spring10_Vol16_No2.pdf

Kivimaki, M., Singh-Manoux, A. (2018). Prevention of dementia by targeting risk factors. The Lancet Commission. 391(10130), 1574-1575. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30578-6

Yim J. (2016). Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine239(3), 243–249. https://doi.org/10.1620/tjem.239.243

Depression. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

University Of Maryland Medical Center. (2005, March 19). University Of Maryland School Of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 14, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050309111444.htm

Risk factors for heart disease linked to dementia. (2017, August 17). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/risk-factors-heart-disease-linked-dementia

Gottesman, R. F., Albert, M. S., Alonso, A., Coker, L. H., Coresh, J., Davis, S. M., Deal, J. A., McKhann, G. M., Mosley, T. H., Sharrett, A. R., Schneider, A., Windham, B. G., Wruck, L. M., & Knopman, D. S. (2017). Associations Between Midlife Vascular Risk Factors and 25-Year Incident Dementia in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Cohort. JAMA neurology74(10), 1246–1254. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.1658