Laughing is a cardiovascular workout. No joke. Not only does a mirthful expression of joy help increase your heart rate, it can also tone your muscles, improve circulation, energize your breathing and raise endorphin levels. Faking a smile can even make you feel happier.

Psychiatrist and laughter researcher Dr. William Fry, adjunct associate professor emeritus at Stanford University medical school, has been telling people for years that laughing is good for your health. And it turns out it could be beneficial for reducing your own, ahem, bottom line. Dr. Fry claims that laughing 100 times during a 24-hour period has the same cardiovascular benefit as rowing a rowing machine for 10 minutes or riding a stationary bike for 15.

The act of laughing raises your blood pressure and heart rate — this is a reaction to the hormones released when you burst out in a guffaw. Your cancer-fighting ability increases too, because more of your disease fighting T-cells are released, thus boosting your immune system. And you get even happier because your stress hormones are lowered and feel-good endorphins elevate. Talk about a win-win situation!
If you don’t feel like smiling and laughing, just fake it. A study illustrating the impact of smiling and mood was conducted at the University of Michigan. Willing student subjects, who thought they were participating in a biomechanics exercise, were told to clench a pencil in their teeth, which caused them to mimic a smile and experience more pleasant feelings than those who did not smile. Why? Researchers say it’s because we have 42 facial muscles that contract when we smile. And smiling slows down blood flow to the brain, resulting in cooler blood reaching the hypothalamus, the master controller of body temp and emotion. If cooler blood reaches the hypothalamus, it makes us happier and calmer. Conversely, not smiling causes more blood flow to the brain, causing us to feel more stressed out and a little more “hot headed.”

So here is a fact that won’t make you laugh: The average child laughs about 400 times per day, but the average adult only laughs 15 times. When was the last time you laughed, chuckled or even smiled? Increasing your laughter quota is good for your mood, your heart and your metabolism. To help get you started, here are a few tips for getting back on the laugh track.

  1. Laugh at yourself If you stumble when you speak because you are fatigued, laugh it off and stop being so serious. Others will laugh with you if you find humor in your own trip-ups.
  2. Make Yourself Laugh What makes you burst out laughing? Is it watching your dog play with others? Then arrange a play date for your dog. Do you like funny films? I love Jim Carrey’s film “Liar Liar” and the blue pen scene. Watch it, and I dare you not to laugh.
  3. Recycle Your Laughs My 10-year old is one of the funniest people I know. Each morning while I’m driving him to school, he makes me burst out laughing, which is pretty good since I am not exactly a morning person. Then later in the day, I recall his jokes or antics and laugh again. It’s a great way to lighten up. Go back and revisit times that made you laugh, and you will find yourself laughing all over again.

If laughter is the best medicine for your mood, your heart and your behind, why aren’t you laughing more? What things do you do to lighten up and laugh?