Laughter as Heart Medicine: A Study's Surprising Findings
Did you know that there are around 7.6 million people living with a heart or circulatory disease in the UK? 
However an intriguing study sheds light on a somewhat unexpected ally: laughter.
While it's commonly known that children laugh heartily, around 300 times a day, adults tend to laugh far less - averaging only about 17 times a day.
This significant decrease in laughter frequency as we age brings into focus the potential untapped benefits of laughter for heart health.
Led by Prof Marco Saffi from the Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre in Brazil, groundbreaking research presented at the European Society of Cardiology's annual meeting explores this very notion.
The study delves into how laughter, a universal human experience, might serve as a powerful tool in supporting cardiovascular health, particularly for those with coronary artery disease.
The Research: Laughter Therapy and Heart Health
The study involved 26 adults, averaging 64 years, diagnosed with coronary artery disease. Over three months, half watched comedy programs, while the other half viewed serious documentaries.
Remarkably, the comedy group exhibited a 10% improvement in heart oxygen pumping capacity and better arterial expansion. Additionally, significant reductions in inflammatory biomarkers, crucial in indicating heart attack or stroke risks, were observed in the laughter group.
How Laughter Works for the Heart
Adults between 18 and 34 years of age report laughing the most. Laughter's beneficial impact on the heart includes:
Improved Vascular Function: Laughter leads to the dilation of blood vessels, which increases blood flow. This process, known as vasodilation, is primarily due to the release of nitric oxide from the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels). Nitric oxide is a key factor in maintaining vascular flexibility, crucial for preventing conditions like atherosclerosis.
Reduced Arterial Stiffness: Regular laughter can help reduce the stiffness of arteries. Stiff arteries can lead to increased blood pressure and a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. Laughter, by promoting relaxation and reducing stress, can help keep the arteries more flexible.
Endorphin Release and Stress Reduction: Laughing triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can temporarily relieve pain. Moreover, laughter reduces the level of stress hormones, which are linked to inflammation and increased heart disease risk.
Enhanced Oxygen Intake:Laughter involves deeper respiratory patterns, which can increase the oxygenation of blood. Enhanced oxygen levels can improve the function of the heart and other vital organs.
Positive Impact on Blood Pressure: Some studies suggest that laughter can lead to short-term reductions in blood pressure, which, over time, contributes to overall heart health.
“When patients with coronary artery disease arrive at hospital, they have a lot of inflammatory biomarkers,” said Prof Saffi. “Inflammation is a huge part of the process of atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up in the arteries.”
“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.”
Potential Applications in Healthcare
In exploring the potential applications of laughter therapy within healthcare settings, Prof Marco Saffi provides compelling insights. He envisions integrating this therapy into established health systems like the NHS, especially for patients at risk of heart complications. Prof Saffi emphasises, "Laughter therapy could be implemented in institutions and health systems like the NHS for patients at risk of heart problems."
“It does not have to be TV programmes – people with heart disease could be invited to comedy evenings, or encouraged to enjoy fun evenings with friends and family. People should try to do things that make them laugh at least twice a week.”
Though the study is groundbreaking, Prof James Leiper from the British Heart Foundation recommend further research to solidify laughter therapy's role in heart health.
In summing up the potential of laughter therapy for heart health, this study led by Prof Marco Saffi serves as a novel way contribute to cardiovascular health. This research does more than just highlight the physical benefits of laughter; it underscores the broader, uplifting impact laughter has on our mental and emotional well-being.
By enhancing vascular function and reducing stress hormones, laughter emerges as an invaluable tool in our health toolkit. To harness this power, consider integrating laughter into daily life through humour-filled interactions, comedic entertainment, or even mindful laughter practices. It's not just about the laughter itself, but the ripple of joy and health it brings to our lives and those around us.
So, what can you do to harness the power of laughter? Here are a few suggestions:
Incorporate Laughter into Your Daily Routine: Whether it's watching a comedy show, reading a funny book, or simply sharing jokes with friends and family, make laughter a regular part of your day.
Spread the Joy: Most laughter does not come from listening to jokes; it comes from spending time with family and friends, and it's much easier to laugh with someone else. Share humorous content with others. Laughter is contagious, and by spreading joy, you contribute to the well-being of those around you.
Mindful Laughter: Sometimes, laughter needs a little nudge. Practice laughing intentionally; even forced laughter can eventually turn into real, spontaneous laughter, reaping the same health benefits.
Let's embrace the joy and health benefits that laughter brings to everyone and make it a part of our journey towards a healthier, happier life.
And one last thing.... smiling is a mild, silent form of laughing!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is laughter therapy?
Laughter therapy involves activities that induce laughter, such as watching comedies or participating in laugh-inducing activities.
2. How does laughter affect heart health?
Laughter can improve heart health by increasing tissue expansion in the heart, reducing inflammation, and decreasing stress hormone levels.
3. Can laughter replace traditional heart disease treatments?
No, it should complement, not replace, standard treatments like medication or lifestyle changes.
4. Is laughter therapy suitable for all heart disease patients?
While beneficial, patients should consult their healthcare provider before starting any new therapy.
5. How often should one engage in laughter therapy?
The study suggests twice weekly, but individual preferences and conditions may vary.
This article is for general information only and is not intended to treat or diagnose medical conditions. If in doubt please check with your GP first.