In 2009, for the first time, research showed that there is some truth in the good old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” But anger and stress, hmm… not so good.
Laughter, along with an active sense of humour, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to the 2009 study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. The study found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease. They also displayed more anger and hostility.
The researchers could not explain how laughter protects the heart but they found that mental stress is associated with impairment of the lining of the blood vessels. The damage to the lining is followed by inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.
Now let us fast forward to 2011. Location: Paris, France. At a session entitled, “Don’t worry, be happy,” a series of research papers were presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress highlighting the role of laughter, positive thinking (cognitive therapy), anger, and job stress on developing cardiovascular events.
The cardiologists from Baltimore presented their research related to the effects of humorous and stressful movies on the function of the lining of the blood vessels. They found that the blood vessels constricted by as much as 30 to 50 per cent when watching movies which were emotionally stressful. In contrast, blood vessels dilated when investigators measured vascular function in subjects watching the comedies.
Positive or negative effects on blood vessels can last for about an hour. Other researchers have seen the benefits of laughter on vascular function extended to 24 hours. The magnitude of change in the blood vessel is similar to the effects observed with statins and physical activity.
Other studies presented at the Paris conference dealt with the effect of anger, job stress, and depression. A study from University of Helsinki, Finland, observed that public-sector individuals who work more than three hours overtime per day were at an increased risk of coronary heart disease compared with those who worked no overtime.
A study from the Institute of Clinical Physiology in Pisa, Italy, recruited 228 patients with the diagnosis of myocardial infarction (heart attack), 200 of whom were men, and assessed the long-term effects of anger on recurrent cardiovascular outcomes. They found that over the course of 10 years, 78.5 per cent of patients without an angry-personality profile were free from a recurrent infarction compared with 57.4 per cent of patients with angry personalities. People with angry personalities tend to eat more and use alcohol too much to curb stress.
A study from Australia showed at four months, cognitive therapy reduced depression and reduced waist girth, increased good (HDL) cholesterol levels and increased physical activity. Patients were better at managing their anger, depression and anxiety.
A researcher from Germany, believes that classical music offers the ideal therapy for patients with hypertension and increased heart rates. He is now planning a prospective study called “Bach or beta blockers.”
Come to think of it, preventing heart attack is lot of fun. Laugh a lot, listen to music, have a positive attitude, meditate a bit, eat healthy, exercise regularly, have a glass of red wine, have a fulfilling relationship with your partner, go dancing and manage your anger. Easy.
Now, go and have some fun.