Laughter: The Most Joyful Way to Promote Heart Health
Laughter is good for us. It helps us bond. It helps us cope with stress. And it’s good for the heart.
A good belly laugh can help out your heart in the following ways:
- Reduce blood pressure and the risks associated with hypertension
- Increase heart rate and oxygen consumption
- Lower the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases
- Promote the release of chemicals in the body that protect the heart by reducing inflammation
- Lower levels of cortisol and epinephrine, “stress hormones that cause your blood vessels to constrict and can negatively impact heart health”
While you may not think that you need another reason to laugh—it just feels good, right?—if you’ve never thought about making laughter a priority, maybe now is the time to do so. When the pressure’s on, it’s often easier to get caught up in negativity and grumpiness—and these are often the moments when you may need laughter most.
Below, we get into the whys and hows of laughter and offer a few creative suggestions for making this heart-healthy activity a priority in your life.
Why Do We Laugh?
The mechanisms behind why we—as human beings—laugh are not perfectly understood, but there are some interesting theories available on the topic. For one, Robert Provine, Ph.D, suggests that laughter is driven by social situations: “Laughter is a message that we send to other people” that is “social and contagious.” He further suggests that from an evolutionary perspective, “When we laugh, we’re often communicating playful intent. So laughter has a bonding function within individuals in a group.”
Neuropsychologist Fabian van den Berg has similar ideas of the origins of laughter, going beyond why we laugh and addressing what makes us laugh. He notes that when scanning the brains on individuals who are laughing, activity takes place in the “the left Inferior Frontal and Posterior Temporal lobe. Your amygdala then releases some dopamine and spindle neurons transmit the happy feeling to other areas.” The reasons these neural centers are in motion? Berg suggests its all got to do with confounded expectations: “Humor is when we expect one thing and then something else happens, when our scripts are broken in a non-threatening way.”
Ready to start laughing and get your heart pumping? Try out the tips below.
Try Something New (Or Do Something You’re Absolutely Terrible At)
While routine tends to come with a number of health benefits of its own, as Larry Alton, writing for the Huffington Post, points out, trying new things can help you learn things about yourself, overcome fears and a sense of intimidation, encourage creative activity in your brain, increase the number of marketable skills you bring to your career, and more.
It can also make you laugh. If laughter is, in fact, driven by unexpected outcomes, putting yourself in new situations could be one of the easiest ways to touch on those nerves. You know you look ridiculous when you fall on the ice after trying on a pair of skates for the first time. You know the first-ever scarf you knit is full of inconsistently sized stitches. Being a beginner gives you permission to make mistakes and not execute tasks flawlessly, and while the end result may not be a model of perfection, if you can laugh at your flaws, you’ll be doing yourself a ton of good when it comes to both body and mind.
A recent study out of the University of Zurich monitored participants’ ability to laugh at distorted images of themselves. The researchers discovered that “being able to laugh at oneself is not only a distinct trait, but is also linked with having an upbeat personality and good mood and may be the foundation for a good sense of humor.”
Just remember, mindset is everything here: Very few people can take on a new sport or hobby and instantly excel at it. The good news? The people who learn to be comfortable with their own awkwardness stand to benefit the most.
Heart Health Bonus: If the thing you try is a physical activity, you may be able to get in some extra heart-pumping cardio minutes in addition to the laughter.
Join a Laughter Yoga Club
Proponents of Laughter Yoga suggest that the brain cannot distinguish between real and fake laughter—“One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits,” which include the lowering of stress hormones in the blood.
Studies suggest there may be something to this. A 2012 study conducted at Isfahan University of Medical Sciences followed a number of nursing students to assess whether laughter yoga could improve student health. The results were affirmative, suggesting that “laughter Yoga had a positive effect on students’ general health and improved the signs of physical and sleep disorders, lowered anxiety and depression, and promoted their social function.”
So, what is laughter yoga? Put simply, it’s a group activity during which you perform a series of exercises that generate “fake” laughter (though often by end of the session, the laughter is, in fact, “real”). Activities are typically performed with a laughter yoga club.
Heart Health Bonus: According to LaughterYoga.org, as “a unique workout which effectively combines laughter exercises with deep yogic breathing,” laughter yoga may help to “[expand] blood vessels and [open] the arteries.”
Hit a Comedy Club for Your Next Date Night
Given that we’re more likely to laugh with others than we are when we’re flying solo, putting yourself in humorous situations with a loved one may be the key to stimulating your funny bone.
Plus, given the bonding powers of laughter, going to a comedy show together can help you feel more connected at the end of the night. According to the Huffington Post, “Sharing humor or creating your own inside jokes triggers the release of endorphins and produces a general sense of well-being.” In addition, “Laughing also reduces stress hormones, which can help couples relax and be open with one another.”
Heart Health Bonus: Optimizing for laughter may increase romantic attraction in your relationship, leading to all kinds of “funny business” (if you know what we mean). And regular intercourse (a couple times a week) has been shown to decrease the risk of developing heart disease.
Become a Pet Owner
Have you been trying to convince your partner (or yourself) that it’s time to bring a furry friend into your household? Here’s another point to add to your “pro” column: Studies suggest that pet owners laugh more than those who don’t have a four-legged companion.
Dog owners, in particular, laugh a lot. We tend to see our dogs as “social partners” and “laugh with dogs to share our amused recognition of social incongruities or shifting frames. We laugh with (or at) dogs when they do what they are not expected or supposed to do, and don’t do what they are expected or supposed to.” Again, it all comes down to the delight we feel when our expectations are turned on their heads.
Heart Health Bonus: Some studies suggest that owning a pet—especially a dog—may help stave off cardiovascular disease and lead to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Play More Games
Gaming—whether through tabletop board games, video games, card games, etc.—is designed to surprise and delight. Games of all sorts tend to be great stress relievers and can be used as social bonding tools.
For an easy laugh-inducing, heart-boosting win, try hosting a board game night. As Chris Mounsher points out for The Counsellors Café, board games can help keep our brains young, “reduce isolation,” and increase “family cohesion.”
And decreasing isolation is especially critical for heart health. According to a recent study, “isolation and loneliness” may increase the risk of experiencing heart problems as we age: “Isolation was associated with a 43% higher risk of first-time heart attack and a 39% higher risk of first-time stroke. Loneliness, meanwhile, was associated with a 49% higher risk of first-time heart attack and a 36% higher risk of first-time stroke.”
Board games of all sorts are great for generating social connectivity. But if you’re looking to get some big laughs out of board game night, games like Telestrations, Apples to Apples, and Cranium may be just what you’re looking for: They’re easy to learn, designed to create funny moments and are huge contributors to fun social settings without stirring up too much competitive behavior.
To be sure, video games, too, can be good for both body and mind. Mental Floss lists a host of research-backed benefits associated with playing video games, including the fact that they help “curb cravings” (what’s good for your waistline is generally good for your heart) and that they help you learn to control your nerves and adrenaline.
And video games can also be both social and hilarious. Jackbox Games is a great resource for hilarious “party”-style games that can be downloaded onto any major gaming console. Portal 1 and 2 are other great options—especially for individuals looking to learn how to use modern consoles and controllers—and are loaded with puzzles and wit.
But really, any video game is perfectly equipped with opportunities for humor given their nature as simulated versions of reality that allow you to do often ridiculous things that would “confound expectations” in the real world (Destiny, for example, let’s you take dance breaks in between shooting aliens of various kinds).
Heart Health Bonus: Despite what the media might say, studies suggest that playing violent video games, in particular, may help people “handle stress better than non-playing adults.” Players also tend to be “less depressed and less hostile following a stressful task.” Given the correlative connection between stress and heart-related issues like hypertension, this is a laughing matter.
Making Heart Health and Wellness a Priority
At SciLife Biosciences™, we’re all about creating health-supporting multivitamins and supplements that help you experience life to the fullest and extend your healthspan. We recognize the importance of promoting good heart health practices, and our VitaYears™ Anti-Aging Multivitamin features more active ingredients than competing brands, including vitamin K which has been shown to provide support for cardiovascular health.