How was the study carried out?
The study looked at how 10 healthy men and 10 healthy women responded to watching 15-minute long film clips. Their average age was 33 years; they didn’t smoke and had normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
They watched either a film clip that would make them laugh or a clip that would cause stress. Then, more than 48 hours later, they watched a film that produced the opposite response.
To stop other factors affecting the results, the volunteers ate nothing the night before viewing the films and watched them in a temperature-controlled room while lying down.
Before watching the film clips, the volunteers had their arteries tested using a test called flow-mediated vasodilatation. This test uses an ultrasound machine to measure how well the arteries respond to a sudden increase in blood flow. This test was then repeated at regular intervals after the film had finished.
Is this the first study to suggest that laughing is good for your heart?
No. The same research team published a study in 2001 that appeared to link reduced heart disease risk with having a strong sense of humor.
The researchers looked at 150 men and women who had heart disease and compared their reactions to difficult and embarrassing situations with 150 men and women who had no heart problems. They found that people with heart disease were more likely to react to stressful situations with anger or hostility and less likely to use humor to overcome their embarrassment. They were also less likely to laugh in positive situations and reported a reduced ability to laugh in general.
These findings led the researchers to believe that laughing may protect the heart. Many commentators suggested that a willingness to laugh at life’s woes could help to reduce a person’s risk of heart disease.
However, the design of the study meant that it was not possible to say whether laughing less increased the risk of heart disease or whether people with heart problems laughed less because of their illness. Because of this, the researchers carried out this new study to investigate the effects of laughter and stress on healthy people.
What are the other benefits of having a good laugh?
Various studies have suggested that a positive outlook on life and having a good laugh is associated with much more than just keeping your heart healthy.
Laughing reduces pain. Children watching comedy films relax more and tolerate pain more easily.8,9 In fact, humorous videos are being used in anaesthetic rooms at Manchester Children’s Hospital.10 And an American nurse has found that telling jokes to her patients before she administers a painful treatment reduces their discomfort. Laughing reduces allergic responses, including hay fever symptoms. Laughing lifts your mood – even if you have to force yourself to laugh. Laughing reduces the effect of stress by lowering stress hormone levels. Laughing helps keeps diabetes under control. It may help to control spikes in blood sugar levels after a meal, reducing the chances of diabetic complications. In one study, people who watched a funny video during dinner had lower blood sugar levels after the meal compared to the people who watched a lecture video.
Make time to laugh
The researchers suggest that we should try to laugh more. In the same way that we try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and climb the stairs instead of taking the lift, perhaps we need to make time to have a good laugh.
“We could perhaps read something humorous or watch a funny video and try to find ways to take ourselves less seriously,” lead researcher Dr. Miller says.