Laughing is much more than showing how happy you are. Did you know that this simple—and contagious—action provides a variety of health benefits?

8 reasons why Laughter really is the best medicine

1. Laughter is a Natural Pain Killer

You probably already know that the act of laughing produces endorphins, known as a “happy” brain chemical that acts as a natural pain killer—soothing stress, reducing anxiety, easing chronic pain, and just making you feel really, really swell.

2. Laughter Strengthens Your Heart

You could go for a walk or you could laugh…or you could go for a walk with a friend and enjoy a laugh or two—either way, you’re getting a great cardiovascular workout. Cardio activities, like laughing, walking, running, and cycling strengthen the heart muscle by accelerating your heart rate. Now the phrase, “laugh your heart out” kind of makes more sense, doesn’t it?

3. Laugh to Ward Off Disease

Laughter is a form of protection for your body. In fact, a Harvard study revealed that the more you laugh and approach life positively, the fewer chronic diseases you will develop. On the other hand, those who are constantly negative, risk a higher possibility of developing a chronic ailment, such as hypertension or diabetes.

4. Laughter Tones Your Abs

Laugh, I mean really laugh, give it all you’ve got. Did you feel that sensation in your abdominal muscles—that’s because the act of laughing causes those muscles to contract (or flex) and relax kind of like when you’re doing ab crunches.  That means when you have a good round of belly laughter, you can count that towards a bit of tummy toning exercise.

5. Laughing Boosts Immunity

See laughter is good medicine when you consider that it activates your body’s T cells (or immune system cells) to help you ward off germs, flues, and illness.  Just ask psychology and neuroscience professor, Robert R. Provine, who studies the health benefits of laughter at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and who penned the book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. That means if you feel a sniffle or sore throat coming on, go see a rip-roaring comedy to boost your immunity.

6. Laughter Decreases Blood Pressure

Do you struggle with blood pressure? Try a round of laughter to decrease and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. According to long-term studies from the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, laughter has been linked to lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke.

7. Laughter Banishes Stress

Rough day at the office? If you’re suffering an undue amount of stress and anxiety due to looming deadlines, a hard to please boss, or piling paperwork, try pulling a coworker aside to tell you a funny Dilbert joke. Chances are a few moments of laughter will greatly reduce the level of stress hormones (i.e., cortisol) coursing around in your body.

8. Laughter Helps Those Suffering From Depression

When it comes to mood—be it a mild case of the blues or chronic depression—a 2011 study from Oxford University showed how laughter could improve one’s overall outlook on life. When the research team conducted a series of experiments that monitored groups of participants watching comedic sitcoms or live comedy, it found that the act of laughing eased emotional and physical discomfort and pain significantly.