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Laugh your way to a healthier heart

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 13, 2024 5:00 am

A recent study just validated the claim “laughter is the best medicine.” Regular laughs from comedy shows or friendly chats are good for the heart.

A study presented in the European Society of Cardiology Congress last year showed that people afflicted with coronary heart disease who watch funny shows regularly showed improvements in their hearts and circulatory systems compared to those who watched serious documentaries.

The study presented by Prof. Marco Saffi and his team involved a group of 26 people with an average age of 64 who participated in a 12-week trial. Saffi has been studying the association between laughter and heart health.

The group was divided into two. One group watched comedy shows twice a week while the other half watched documentaries or serious political shows twice a week.

A recent study just validated that laughter is like a medicine that can improve important markers in patients with coronary artery disease.

The results were amazing. Laughter therapy led to improved heart and circulation, expanded arteries, increased oxygen flow, and reduced inflammation markers in the blood. The latter helps predict the chance of a heart attack or stroke.

There are other studies supporting the positive effects of laughter on the body. Laughing releases endorphins, increases the amount of oxygen you take in, reduces stress hormones, brings down heart rate and blood pressure, and causes muscles to relax.

It might not be long before laughter can be used or prescribed as a therapy. “People with heart disease could be invited to comedy evenings or encouraged to enjoy fun evenings with friends and family,” he said in his presentation.

Family and friends can help us go through anything in life, whether health crisis or other disappointing situations.

In London, some doctors are offering laughter yoga, which is a combination of breathing exercises and conscious laughter. Yoga and breathing help in easing stress and complement laughter to improve the well-being of patients.

The study cautioned that it is not saying that laughter is a treatment for coronary heart disease. More trials need to be done, but the fact remains that this study provided an interesting option for those who already suffer heart ailments. It wouldn’t hurt at all to try.

Many doctors would like to see more studies to determine if the improvements will keep on building up the longer laughter therapy is administered and if the beneficial effects will last (and for how long).

Exercise is very important in patients with heart disease, but laughter was found to help increase oxygen flow and expand the arteries.

Forcing laughter is not a welcome idea to some, but normally the one closest to us knows how to make us laugh. It could also be as simple as going through all the comic shows and movies Netflix or HBO offers, to keep tabs on what types of humor make us cry with laughter.

Psychologists also remind us that even just a sincere smile can bring warm feelings and optimism. There are studies which confirmed that as little as three minutes of smiling can help a person feel better.

They added, though, that watching something funny or chatting with someone about something you can both laugh about has a more powerful and soothing effect than a mere smile.

Many even use humor to cope with difficult news or a depressing situation. Psychologists say that is a normal human response and should not be taken as being insensitive or disrespectful.

When we are in difficult situations, our brain uses humor to process the undesirable and disturbing reality. Laughter can create that connection between people immersed in a situation. It is like acknowledging we are all in this together, though we are all clueless about what is happening.

When a person gets a life-changing diagnosis, it can cause a lot of emotions because change is scary, unsettling, and frustrating. Aside from the dreaded words when the diagnosis is delivered by your doctor, the feelings of pain and unease will be constant reminders of the disease.

Laughter can reduce the feelings of hopelessness, anger, and fear. It can usher in feelings of hope and positivity. 

Saffi, a Harvard alumnus and professor of a postgraduate program in cardiology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, concluded that this first randomized clinical trial on coronary artery disease patients to evaluate the effect of laughter therapy rehab was successful. 

Laughter may be considered part of cardiac rehabilitation considering the results of their study—an increase in VO2 peak, improvements in endothelium-independent function, and reduced inflammatory biomarkers.