Laughter: New Medicine for the Heart?

January 20, 2006

Mental stress, such as that caused by depression and anxiety, can increase the risk for heart disease. What about good emotions? Can a good sense of humor reduce the risk of heart disease? Researchers at the University of Maryland (Baltimore, MD) think so!

Dr. Michael Miller and his research team tested the arterial blood flow of 20 people before and one minute after they watched short (15 to 30 minute) movie clips. Some of the movie clips (for example, the opening scenes from Saving Private Ryan) were meant to be stressful while other clips (for example, There's Something About Mary and Kingpin) were used to make people laugh.

Blood flow was reduced in 14 of the 20 (70%) people after they watched stressful movies. The average reduction in blood flow compared to baseline levels was 35%. These blood flow reductions are similar to reductions caused by angry memories and mental math calculations.

Blood flow was increased in 19 of the 20 (95%) people by an average of 22% after they watched movies that made them laugh. These changes are similar to those caused by aerobic exercise and medicines that lower cholesterol levels.

Researchers are not sure how laughter improves blood flow, but changes in hormone levels might be involved. Nevertheless, these data suggest that a good sense of humor and a dose of laughter may help people at risk for heart disease.

References and further information:

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