It's time to get serious about having fun because laughing is good for your health.

According to researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center, as reported in an article in a recent issue of Spry Living, laughter releases feel-good beta-endorphins that trigger the release of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow throughout the body including to and from the heart.

According to the article, "Nitric oxide also protects the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing formation of cholesterol plaque. The researchers said the effects of laughter on blood vessels are similar to the benefits of aerobic exercise or the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins. The difference is that laughter is spontaneous and has an immediate effect."

Other benefits of laughter cited in the research are that it can reduce stress hormones, including cortisol and epinephrin, and it boosts the number of antibody-reducing cells which help fight disease.