Mr. Harrington personified the harried middle-aged executive male who complained of being chronically overworked with very little time for recreation. Despite a history of high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, he was hoping for a quick fix with a couple of medications. He wasn’t interested in any additional heart-healthy recommendations from me; he just wanted to return to work.
“My diet is good but my schedule is so tight, and I don’t seem to have the energy to exercise after a long day at the office. What else can I do as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle?”
“Believe it or not, laughter may also be good for your heart,” I told him.
I explained that it has been known for some time that laughing is associated with a reduction in stress hormones leading to decreases in blood pressure and heart rate. Now a new study provides additional support for this theory.
The study evaluated 300 men and women with or without heart disease. All participants were given a situational humor questionnaire that asked how they would respond to various activities and situations that occurred in daily life. It turns out that heart disease sufferers had a significantly reduced response to situational humor compared with normal controls, suggesting a potential link between laughter and heart disease.
“Those are interesting results but would it also apply to my condition, especially since I also have high cholesterol and high blood pressure?” he asked.
As I examined him, I told him that the results of the study remained highly significant even after adjusting for other heart disease risk factors, such as elevated cholesterol and blood pressure.
“So, how much laughter do I need and if I do laugh on a regular basis, does that exempt me from diet and heart medications?” Harrington asked.
“Of course, you need to continue to follow a diet low in saturated fat as well as take your blood pressure and cholesterol medications, ” I explained. Laughing would be supplemental and would not replace these proven remedies to reduce heart disease risk.
“The good news is that laughing can be done anywhere and at any time. More importantly, the key may be to laugh briskly. Whether that occurs while watching your favorite comedy show or joking with your friends, it should be incorporated into your daily life.”
“That sounds like reasonable advice, but do you have any examples where laughing impacted someone’s life?” he asked me.
As a matter of fact, I explained that after the famous author, Norman Cousins, had been struck with a rare disease that left him bedridden and extremely weak, he turned to laughter by watching numerous episodes of “Candid Camera” and Marx Brothers movies. Eventually, he made a complete recovery, despite being told that the odds had been 500-to-1 against him.
Harrington wanted to know if there were any other suggestions that he could take with him before embarking on this new therapy.
“Take yourself less seriously and find time to enjoy being with people who make you feel good about yourself,” I responded.
Some study was presented at the Annual Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association in New Orleans. It represents the first connection between laughter and heart disease. Further studies will need to be carried out to determine whether there are additional protective mechanisms that account for these effects. In the meantime, the most sound advice would be to laugh more heartily on a regular basis