We often talk about laughter as a “medicine”. Imagine that according to a Brazilian study, this adage could contain an element of truth. These results were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam. Explanations from Johanna Rozenblum, clinical psychologist.
Do you like to laugh? So keep going, it’s good for your heart! Indeed, according to the results of a Brazilian study, laughter helps to dilate heart tissue and increase the oxygen supply to this vital muscle.
Should you laugh with comedy series or stay serious with a documentary?
For this work, the scientists studied a small group of 26 volunteers, aged 64 on average. All had coronary artery disease, with atherosclerotic plaque deposits detected within their coronary vessels, responsible for the blood supply to the heart muscle.
For three months, half the group was asked to watch two different comedy programs each week, lasting an hour each time, which included popular series. The other half watched two serious documentaries, different each time, on topics such as politics or the Amazon rainforest.
Splitting your pear helps keep your heart healthier
In addition to these viewings, participants underwent blood tests to measure several inflammatory biomarkers, which indicate the amount of plaque accumulated in blood vessels. They also help determine whether people are at risk of heart attack or stroke. The results showed that these inflammatory markers were significantly reduced in the volunteers who laughed, compared to the control group.
“Our study found that laughter therapy increased the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system.” explains the lead author of this study, Professor Marco Saffi, from the Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre in Brazil. “Laughter helps the cardiovascular system because it releases endorphins, which reduce inflammation and help the heart and blood vessels relax. It also reduces levels of stress hormones, which put pressure on the heart” .
Reduce inflammation to limit the atherosclerosis process
At the end of the 12-week study period, the scientists also note that the laughter group saw a 10 percent improvement in the amount of oxygen their hearts could pump. Generally speaking, they also saw their inflammation reduced and were healthier.
“When patients with coronary heart disease arrive at the hospital, they have a lot of inflammatory biomarkers” adds Professor Saffi. “Inflammation is a big part of the process of atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up in the arteries. This study found that laughter therapy is a good intervention that can help reduce this inflammation and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Good in his body, good in his head!
Implement laughter therapies in hospitals
For the doctor, “laughter therapy could be implemented in institutions and health systems such as the NHS (National Health Service or English health system, editor’s note) for patients at risk of heart problems“.
“It doesn’t have to be TV programmes, but people with heart conditions could be invited to comedy nights for example 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.”
For Professor Saffi, “laughter helps people feel happier overall, and we know that when people are happier, they have better adherence to their treatments.”
Advice from Johanna Rozenblum, psychologist
- “Laughing promotes emotional balance and mental health, it is an everyday pleasure and it boosts self-esteem. It also helps fight against anxiety and depressive states. What we can advise, To continue laughing and not let yourself be overwhelmed by a negative mood, it is to:
- Always listen to your emotions, and put your finger on what does not suit us in order to identify it and get rid of it;
- Succeed in distancing yourself from the facts, to put things into perspective and not let yourself be overcome by a feeling of negativity;
- Maintain the joy of reaching out to others and doing activities, continuing to cultivate your curiosity;
- Do not lock yourself in a feeling of solitude, continue to share with others, to create moments of joy and therefore, laughter.