Laughter Is Good For The Heart … but you knew That

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Laughter Is Good For The Heart … but you knew That

One of the main tenets of Chinese Medicine is that our emotions play a role in our health and physical functioning.  In the last few decades, Western science has begun to understand this idea in a number of ways, whether it’s shown how stress affects the body, how anger and depression keep people from recovering faster, or that laughter is good for you.

In TCM, the emotion that belongs to the Heart is Joy.  We all know that Joy can help to heal the heart.  (On the other side of the spectrum, too much joy (ie. mania) can also injure the heart fluids.)  In the Western medical world, Michael Miller, a researcher at the University of Baltimore Medical Center, has researched joyful experiences, and how they help the heart function better.  In one study, Dr. Miller found that people with heart disease were less likely to find humor in situations, 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.   In another study, he looked at the effects of listening to (self-selected) joyful music vs. anxiety-producing music.  He found that listening to anxiety-producing music constricted the blood vessels (making the heart work harder to circulate the blood and raising blood pressure), while listening to joyful music opened the blood vessels (easing the load on the heart muscle and lowering blood pressure).

Now, Dr. Miller has reported on another study, yet to be published, that shows that laughter has similar effects on our blood vessels.

“We want to maintain good vascular health, and we do that by maintaining a good diet and good regular physical activity, but it turns out that emotions also play an important role here,” Miller recently told the media during a morning press conference at the European Society of Cardiology Congress (2011).

These researchers promoted laughter by showing movies or segments from Saturday Night Live to really make people laugh.  They also screened intense segments of dramatic movies, such as Saving Private Ryan.  After each movie, endothelial function was measured in the blood vessels. After watching the scene from Saving Private Ryan, blood vessels constricted by as much as 30% to 50%, whereas vasodilation occurred when investigators measured vascular function in subjects watching the comedies. They also observed that vasoconstriction and vasodilation can occur quickly, with the funny movies reversing blood-vessel contraction that occurred after watching the stressful D-Day scene.  They found that the effects of laughing for 10-15 minutes last in the body for up to an hour and can have similar effects to exercise for heart health.

Maybe this all seems obvious.  Even if TCM has been saying this for 2,000 years, the more Western Medicine recognizes the ways that emotions affect our health, the better!

(Photo credit: Michael Kuhn)

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