Philosopher Bertrand Russell once described laughter as “the most inexpensive and most effective wonder drug.” He may not have meant this literally, but recent scientific advances reveal that laughter measurably improve our physical health and wellbeing! Studies of the effects of laughter show that it can play an especially key role in preventing – and even treating – heart disease.
Combating Heart Disease with…Comedy?
Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, asked participants to spend 30 minutes watching either a humorous video or a documentary. All participants watched both the comedy and the documentary on different days so their results could be compared. The researchers measured blood flow before and after the viewing sessions, and found substantial improvements in the artery function and flexibility (as measure by flow-mediated dilation and the carotid artery augmentation index) of participants who watched comedic videos. These improvements for nearly 24 hours after viewing the videos!
The study was small in scale, but the results were compelling. “These results suggest that mirthful laughter elicited by comic movies induces beneficial impact on vascular function,” the researcher said. In other words, every time you laugh out loud during a movie, you may be making your heart healthier!
The More You Laugh, the Healthier Your Heart
A separate study carried out by researchers in Japan and published in the Journal of Epidemiology examined the relationship between how often someone laughs and their risk of heart disease and stroke. The authors drew on data from over 20,000 men and women all age 65 or older. They tracked and counterbalanced for a variety of risk factors, including hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood)…high blood pressure…depression…and body mass index (BMI).
Their conclusions were striking: individuals who “never or almost never laughed” had a 21 percent greater chance of developing heart disease than those who laughed at least once each day. Their increased risk of stroke was even higher – 60 percent above daily laughers.
Finding Life Funny Could Protect Your Heart
One of the first and most comprehensive studies on the heart-protective effect of laughter was done by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. The research team compared the humor responses of 300 people, half of whom had either suffered a heart attack or undergone coronary artery bypass surgery, and half of whom did not have a history of heart problems. Participants took two questionnaires, one that used a series of multiple-choice questions to determine how likely participants were to laugh in certain situations, and one that used true or false questions to measure how much anger and hostility they felt.
According to Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School of Medicine, the most significant finding from the study was that people with heart disease were significantly less likely to laugh at everyday occurrences. They were also more likely to display anger and hostility.
Tips on How to Laugh More Often
“The ability to laugh – either naturally or as a learned behavior – may have important implications in societies such as the United States where heart disease remains the number one killer,” said Miller. He suggests incorporating laughter into your daily routine just as you might make a heart-healthy choice to take the stairs rather than the elevator. “We could perhaps read something humorous or watch a funny video,” Miller said. The essential thing, he emphasized, is finding a way to take yourself less seriously, at least for a few moments.