The study's remarkable findings were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology – the world's largest heart conference – in Amsterdam last August.
Having a sense of humor is good for your heart. When you laugh, you don't just increase your oxygen intake, which is great for your lungs, you also provide exercise for your heart. And people whose hearts are weakened by heart disease can greatly benefit from this cardio exercise. (Related: Walking 8,000 brisk steps once or twice a week found to boost heart health.)
Marco Saffi, a professor from the Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre in Brazil who led the study, told the Guardian: "Our study found that laughter therapy increased the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system. Laughter therapy could be implemented in institutions and health systems like the NHS [National Health System of the UK] for patients at risk of heart problems."
Saffi and his team conducted their study to find out if laughter therapy, a non-invasive, non-pharmacologic and easily implementable intervention, can improve cardiovascular health and reduce common symptoms of heart disease, which include a reduced ability of the heart to pump oxygen throughout the body and an impaired capacity of the arteries to expand.
The Brazilian researchers recruited 26 adults with an average age of 64 for their 12-week experiment. All the participants have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD), a condition caused by the accumulation of plague in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
The researchers divided the participants into two groups, one of which was tasked to watch comedy programs every week for three months while the other watched serious documentaries about Nature or politics.
The study found that the participants who were assigned to watch comedy programs showed improvement in their cardiovascular function, as evidenced by a 10 percent increase in the amount of oxygen their hearts were able to pump into their bodies. Their arteries' ability to dilate also improved after 12 weeks of laughter therapy.
Before and after the experiment, the researchers took blood samples from the participants to check their levels of inflammatory biomarkers and how much plaque is deposited in their arteries. Comparison of blood analysis results showed that those who received laughter therapy had greatly reduced inflammatory biomarkers at the end of the study, which meant that their risks of heart attack and stroke also went down.
"When patients with coronary artery disease arrive at [a] hospital, they have a lot of inflammatory biomarkers. Inflammation is a huge part of the process of atherosclerosis when plaque builds up in the arteries," Saffi explained.
"This study found that laughter therapy is a good intervention that could help reduce that inflammation and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke." (Related: Do these exercises in the morning to boost your heart function and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.)
Saffi and his team believes that the cardiovascular improvements brought about by laughter therapy may have something to do with the increase in endorphins released by the brain. Endorphins are the "feel-good" chemicals released during pleasurable activities, such as exercise, eating and having sex. These happy hormones also help lower blood pressure and decrease the strain on your heart by reducing the levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Because of their promising findings, Saffi and his team are optimistic about the prospect of laughter therapy becoming a widely implemented intervention for heart disease in the future. Saffi thinks it could also help reduce the dependence of heart disease patients on pharmaceutical medications, which cause unfavorable side effects. But more and larger studies are needed to validate their findings.
Laughter therapy is not just limited to TV programs. You can enjoy the benefits of laughter by hanging out with your friends and doing fun activities with your family and loved ones. Saffi recommends doing things that can make you laugh at least twice a week for best results.
A good laugh can provide plenty of short-term health benefits. For instance, laughing can stimulate your lungs, heart and muscles, and helps cool down your stress response. It can also increase then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, leaving you with a pleasant, relaxed feeling afterward.
Laughing also helps relax the muscles of your body and promotes good blood circulation. In fact, a hearty laugh can leave your muscles relaxed for a good 45 minutes after. Thanks to these effects, laughter is the best natural medicine for stress and can help reduce some of its physical symptoms.
Frequent laughter also offers some amazing long-term benefits. According to psychiatrist Dr. William Fry, a professor at Stanford University, "mirthful laughter" markedly enhances your body's resistance to illness. Research shows that people who laugh often tend to release more T cells from the spleen into the bloodstream. T cells are a type of immune cells whose functions include activating other immune cells, killing infected cells and regulating your immune response.
Laughter also promotes a positive mood via the release of more endorphins, which can help fight stress, anxiety and depression. This has the added benefit of improving your self-esteem and increasing your pain tolerance. (Related: Not all pain should be treated with NSAIDs.)
A study by Swiss researchers found that people who are laughing are able to keep their hands submerged in ice water longer than people who are not. This increased tolerance to pain remained 20 minutes after the participants had stopped laughing. The researchers attributed this effect to the release of endorphins and the reduction in muscular tension. This finding shows that laughter therapy could also help people who are suffering from chronic pain.
Laughter is one of the best medicines for your heart and offers incredible benefits for your overall health. For more tips on how to boost your heart health naturally, visit Heart.news.
Watch the following video to learn if laughter is good for the heart.
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