On his BBC Sounds podcast, Just One Thing, Dr Michael Mosley revealed how true the adage “laughter is the best medicine” really is.
“The scientific benefits of having a good laugh are surprisingly compelling,” said Dr Mosley.
Having a good belly laugh has been linked to feeling socially connected, better pain tolerance, and more energy, improved memory and good heart health.
To explore the association between laughter and heart health in more depth, Dr Mosley brought on heart disease expert Professor Michal Miller from the University of Pennsylvania in the US.
As part of his research, Professor Miller tested out the impact of stress and laughter on the arteries.
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Professor Miller explained: “The centre of heart disease is our inner lining of blood vessels known as the endothelium.”
The endothelium represents heart health, which is the first thing to become damaged if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or you smoke.
“We know that when you are stressed out and you can look at the endothelium, you would see that our blood vessels constrict,” said Professor Miller.
“And so we did a study; we had our volunteers watch a clip of a movie that promoted stress – that movie was Saving Private Ryan.
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“And when we exposed our volunteers to a clip of the movie in fact their blood vessels constricted.”
Professor Miller continued: “On another time we also showed them movies of funny clips to get them to laugh.
“And when we did that part of the experiment, the blood vessel actually opened up.
“We had an opposing effect of better vascular health.”
The effects of laughter on the endothelium occurred within a matter of minutes.
For the laugh to benefit heart health, however, it has to be a true belly laugh that brings tears to your eyes.
Such a bodily response releases feel-good endorphins that signal to the blood vessels to dilate.
Further benefits include lowered blood pressure, reduced inflammation, lowering of cholesterol – and the effects can go on for as long as 24 hours.
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