Laughter really may be the best medicine, according to research presented to the American College of Cardiology. Laughing appears to boost your blood flow and researchers say it may reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
But the benefits of laughing don't stop with your heart: laughing has previously been found to help fight infections, relieve hay fever, ease pain and help control diabetes.
What did this study find?
The researchers found that laughing increased blood flow by more than 20 percent - a similar effect to that of aerobic activity. The positive effect of laughing lasted for 30-45 minutes.
In contrast, stress decreased the blood flow by about 35 percent.
Almost everyone seems to benefit from having a good laugh:
- 95 percent of the volunteers in the study (19 out of 20) had better blood flow after watching a comedy movie clip.
- 70 percent (14 out of 20) had a worse blood flow after watching a stressful film sequence.
What do these findings mean for me?
According to the researchers, regular laughter in your life could help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. They recommend 15 minutes of laughter a day as well as regular exercise to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease is a condition in which blood vessels become damaged and narrowed by fatty deposits. This can reduce or stop the blood supply to heart muscles (causing heart disease), the brain (causing stroke) or arms and legs (causing peripheral arterial disease).
Why is laughing good for your heart?
The benefits of laughing lie in its effect on the inner lining (endothelium) of the walls of your arteries. The endothelium plays a vital role in maintaining blood flow by regulating the diameter of the blood vessels.
Damage to the endothelium is one of the factors involved in cardiovascular disease.
Laughing seems to make the endothelium expand; stress seems to narrow it. So laughing helps keep your artery walls fit and well, helping to maintain good blood flow.
Why is blood flow important?
A fast blood flow shows that the arteries are wide and open, so the heart and the rest of the body is well supplied with blood. In contrast, a slow blood flow shows that the arteries have become narrowed and the chances of a blockage forming are increased.
Why does laughter expand blood vessels?
The researchers are not sure exactly how laughter expands the blood vessels. One theory is that the effect is a result of the movement of the diaphragm muscles as you chuckle or guffaw. Another idea is that it's caused by chemicals called endorphins being released when we laugh.
How does stress make our blood flow slower?
While no-one understands how laughter makes our blood flow faster, the study's researchers may be able to explain how stress slows the flow down.
A chemical called nitric oxide helps the endothelium to expand. The researchers suggest that mental stress leads to a breakdown in nitric oxide or reduces its production, resulting in narrowing.
What are the other benefits of having a good laugh?
Various studies have suggested that a positive outlook on life and having a good laugh is associated with much more than just keeping your heart healthy.
- Laughing is thought to help you to fight off illnesses by boosting your immune system. It increases the amount of immunoglobulins (also known as antibodies, in your blood), natural killer cells and T cells in the body, which fight infection and tumours.
- Laughing reduces pain. Children watching comedy films relax more and tolerate pain more easily. In fact, humorous videos are being used in anaesthetic rooms at Manchester Children's Hospital. And an American nurse has found that telling jokes to her patients before she administers a painful treatment reduces their discomfort.
- Laughing reduces allergic responses, including hay fever symptoms.
- Laughing lifts your mood - even if you have to force yourself to laugh.
- Laughing reduces the effect of stress by lowering stress hormone levels.
- Laughing helps keeps diabetes under control. It may help to control spikes in blood sugar levels after a meal, reducing the chances of diabetic complications. In one study, people who watched a funny video during dinner had lower blood sugar levels after the meal compared to the people who watched a lecture video.
Make time to laugh
The researchers suggest that we should try to laugh more. In the same way that we try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and climb the stairs instead of taking the lift, perhaps we need to make time to have a good laugh.
"We could perhaps read something humorous or watch a funny video and try to find ways to take ourselves less seriously," lead researcher Dr. Miller says. "The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be - exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day."
Laughter affects the body like exercise
Repetitive laughter could have the same effects on the body as exercise, according to a new study.
Results of the study, from Loma Linda University's Schools of Allied Health (SAHP) and Medicine, showed that laughing not only enhances a positive mood, but lowers stress hormones, increases immune activity and lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, similar to moderate exercise.
In the study, 14 healthy volunteers were recruited to a three-week study to examine the effects that eustress (mirthful laughter) and distress have on modulating the key hormones that control appetite.
During the study, each subject was required to watch one 20-minute video at random that was either upsetting (distress) or humorous (eustress) in nature.
During the study, the researchers measured each subject's blood pressure and took blood samples immediately before and after watching the respective videos.
Each blood sample was separated out into its components and the liquid serum was examined for the levels of two hormones involved in appetite, leptin and ghrelin, for each time point used in the study.
When the researchers compared the hormone levels pre- and post-viewing, they found that the volunteers who watched the distressing video showed no statistically significant change in their appetite hormone levels during the 20-minutes they spent watching the video.
In contrast, the subjects who watched the humorous video had changes in blood pressure and also changes in the leptin and ghrelin levels.
Specifically, the level of leptin decreased as the level of ghrelin increased, much like the acute effect of moderate physical exercise that is often associated with increased appetite.
Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University's Schools of Allied Health (SAHP) and Medicine, said that this research does not conclude that humour increases appetite.
"The ultimate reality of this research is that laughter causes a wide variety of modulation and that the body's response to repetitive laughter is similar to the effect of repetitive exercise," he said.
"The value of the research is that it may provide for those who are health care providers with new insights and understandings, and thus further potential options for patients who cannot use physical activity to normalize or enhance their appetite," he added.
The study is being presented at the 2010 Experimental Biology conference.
Here are some of the many Benefits of Smiling!
Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "To smile in the company of your brother is charity." (Bukhari)
It seems that nothing has more power to elevate a mood than the impact of a genuine smile. The benefits of a smile extend not only to the recipient of the warm gesture but also to the smile's originator. "A smile is a little curve that sets a lot of things straight."
- Smiling Makes Us Attractive - People are spending millions on cosmetic products and procedures to make them look better. If you want to look better, try adding a genuine smile. It's cheaper and much more attractive. The muscles we use to smile lift the face, making a person appear younger. Don't go for a face lift, just try smiling your way through the day - you'll look younger and feel better.
- Smiling Changes Our Mood - Next time you are feeling down, try putting on a smile. There's a good chance your mood will change for the better. Smiling can trick the body into helping you change your mood.
- Smiling Is Contagious - When someone is smiling they lighten up the room, change the moods of others and make things happier. A smiling person brings happiness with them.
- Smiling Relieves Stress - Stress can really show up in our faces. Smiling helps to prevent us from looking tired, worn down and overwhelmed. When you are stressed, take time to put on a smile. The stress should be reduced and you'll be better able to take action. Smiling helps to promote release of a "feel good" group of hormones called endorphins. These are the same group of hormones responsible for the runners high you hear so much about. If you don't have time to get to the gym for a hard run, try adding a smile to boost these natural, stress relieving hormones.
- Smiling Boosts Your Immune System - Smiling helps the immune system to work better. When you smile, immune function improves possibly because you are more relaxed. Prevent the flu and colds by smiling.
- Smiling Lowers Your Blood Pressure - When you smile, there is a measurable reduction in your blood pressure. Give it a try if you have a blood pressure monitor at home. Sit for a few minutes, take a reading. Then smile for a minute and take another reading while still smiling. Do you notice a difference?
- Smiling is medication - Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin. Together these three make us feel good. Smiling is a natural drug and leads to a healthier immune system. Various studies conducted over the years have shown that smiling can boost the functioning of the immune system. This may help to reduce your risk of developing everything from the common cold to chronic diseases such as cancer. Could there be a less expensive medicine than this?
- A smile inspires others - When you smile you also send a positive message that can potentially change someone else's mood for the better. The person you graced with your smile may go on to pass the kindness to someone else. Who knows how far your original smile will travel?
- Smiling promotes Success - Smiling people appear more confident, are more likely to be promoted and more likely to be approached. Put on a smile at meetings and appointments and people will react to you differently. When you smile, you appear confident and capable. Given the choice between two equally qualified job candidates, the smiling candidate is going to be perceived as being more of a team player and easier to work with. Who do you think is more likely to get the job offer?
- Smiling Helps You Stay Positive - Try this test: Smile. Now try to think of something negative without losing the smile. It's hard. When we smile our body is sending the rest of us a message that "Life is Good!" Stay away from depression, stress and worry by smiling.
Smile ..... It does not cost a cent and can make a persons day! As saying goes, "It takes seventeen muscles to smile and forty-three to frown."
The greatest reason for smiling is because it is a Sunnah [practice] of our Beloved Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him)! Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him) had a smiling face and advised us to entertain our guest with a smiling face and good conduct. To smile is an act of charity!