Good news for the funny animal video watchers of the world (so, everyone): laughing may cause your brain to form memories more effectively. Researchers at Loma Linda University in Southern California ran an experiment in which a test group of older adults watched 20 minutes of a funny video, while the control group watched no video. Then all of the adults were given a memory test. Lo and behold: the funny video watchers performed better!
Why did humor have this effect? To make a long story short, stress makes you functionally dumber. The hormone cortisol spikes when you're stressed out for whatever reason, and cortisol has negative health effects (it can contribute to weight gain, heart disease, mental illness and depression, and more). So, to counteract the effects of stress and high cortisol levels, you can benefit from any otherwise-healthy activity that helps you to relax. In this case, researchers hypothesize that their test subjects experienced a decrease in cortisol, lowered blood pressure, and resulting calming effect from the funny video watching. That allowed them to perform more fully to the best of their abilities on the subsequent memory test.
Daily humor breaks are one easy way to break a cycle of cortisol spikes and reap the mental and physical benefits of a less-stressed body. Especially as America becomes an older country, with hefty healthcare costs for the elderly, it is important for us to figure out what kinds of easy interventions could really pay off to us as individuals and as a society.
This particular study was unfortunately very small, with just 20 participants, so further investigation is in order. But, since laughing and enjoying humor is fun and easy and low-cost, with no apparent risks, you might as well continue to indulge in the meantime. With memory loss related to Alzheimer's affecting more women than men, we'll take all the help we can get.