In recent years, studies are finding a strong link between our emotions and cardiovascular health. Research shows that hostility, anger, depression, anxiety and social isolation all lead to higher rates of heart disease. This knowledge is leading researchers to take a closer look at the effects of happiness and a sense of humor.
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Research on laughter and your heart
It was in 2005 that a link between laughter and healthy function of blood vessels was first discovered by researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center. They found that laughter increases the blood flow by causing the inner lining of blood vessels—the endothelium—to dilate. The researchers said the change in the endothelium caused by laughter appears to be 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.
Fun Facts about Laughter
Fact #1. Children laugh a lot more than adults: an average baby laughs around 300 times a day; an average adult laughs around 20 times a day.
Fact #2. Babies have the ability to laugh before they ever speak.
Fact #3. Children who are born blind and deaf also have the ability to laugh.
Fact #4. According to some studies, the onset of adulthood leads to increased seriousness and a diminished engagement in laughter.
Fact #5. There are thousands of languages and dialects, but everyone expresses laughter in pretty much the same way.
Source: The American Heart Association
Cardiovascular benefits of laughter
Benefit #1. Laughter causes the release of beta-endorphins in the hypothalamus, which leads to the release of nitric oxide, which dilates the vessels. And there’s more. Nitric oxide is a chemical that also protects the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing the formation of cholesterol plaque.
Benefit #2. Laughter has also been shown to have beneficial effects on other aspects of our biochemistry. For example, it leads to a reduction in stress hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine. And we know that stress causes our blood vessels to constrict.
Benefit #3. Laughter boosts the number of antibody-producing cells, which leads to a stronger immune system.
One fun-loving expert’s opinion
“I am always happy when I meet patients who have a sense of humor,” says Ben Barzilai, MD, Section Head of Clinical Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic. “The benefits of laughter cannot be understated. It leads to an immediate reduction in the body’s negative response to stress and causes the blood vessels of the body—including the heart—to increase blood flow as needed.”
Researchers are just beginning to understand all that laughter can do to promote heart health. There is some thought that laughing on a regular basis can even reduce your risk for a heart attack.
So, for this Heart Month, you may want to add some humor to your life by…
- Looking at the lighter side of things
- Spending more quality time with loved ones who bring joy and laughter
- Catching a comedy on TV or at the movies
By making humor a regular part of your life, you can actually have a big impact on your own heart health.