COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack.
A new study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease.
The researchers found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
“The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” said Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland.
“We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels,” Miller said. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.
In the study, researchers compared the humor responses of 300 people. Half of the participants had either suffered a heart attack or had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. The other 150 were healthy, age-matched participants who did not have heart disease.
The researchers found people with heart disease were less likely to recognize humor or use it to get out of uncomfortable situations. They generally laughed less, even in positive situations and they displayed more anger and hostility.
The ability to laugh may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the No. 1 killer,” said Miller.
“We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list.”
Miller said it may be possible to incorporate laugher into our daily activities, just as we do with other heart-healthy activities, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
“We could perhaps read something humorous or watch a funny video and try to find ways to take ourselves less seriously,” Miller said. “The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be – exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.”