By: Laurie Edwards for Heart1
As one new study found depression could increase the risk of death, another discovered that a good laugh could be a step towards a prolonged life. It’s no joke; daily laughter provides many of the same cardiovascular benefits as exercise. But before you throw away your sneakers and trade in your gym membership for comics, experts caution that while laughter may feel great, it should never replace exercise altogether.
|Stats on Depression and Laughter
15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis, and thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, is good for the vascular system.
While average blood flow increases 22 percent during laughter, it decreases 35 percent during the stressful moments of serious movies.
Depression is often linked to unhealthy habits such as smoking or becoming addicted to drugs. These behaviors can increase the risk of death in people by 44 percent.
For more information on cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, visit the American Heart Association here.
For information on depression, visit the National Institute of Mental Health here.
“We do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system,” said the University of Maryland’s Michael Miller, head of the research team studying laughter’s effect on health.
According to Miller’s team, laughter stimulates blood flow in the heart in a similar manner to how exercise does. They found that laugher generated a “magnitude of change… in the endothelium… similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise.”
How does this translate into heart health? The endothelium – the layer of blood vessels lining the heart – is the first to develop atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of arteries that can lead to a build-up of plaque in the heart. When this happens, blood flow essential to the heart muscle’s health is restricted.
According to Miller, “given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Miller’s team arrived at their results by showing funny and stressful film excerpts to 20 non-smoking, healthy volunteers and monitoring the changes in their blood vessel reactivity. While average blood flow increased 22 percent during laughter, it decreased 35 percent during the stressful moments of the serious movies.
Miller is unable to explain the physiology of this link, whether it is the actual movement of diaphragm muscles during laughter or the result of a chemical released during laughter that stimulates blood flow.
In contrast to this promising news, a second study found a link between depression and early death, proving that the absence of laughter is no light matter when it comes to cardiovascular health.
The reason depression factors so heavily in shortened life span is that depression is often linked to unhealthy habits such as smoking or becoming addicted to drugs. These behaviors can increase the risk of death in people by 44 percent, said the University of Carolina’s Wein Jang, lead researcher in the depression study.
According to Jang, the “adverse association of depression and increased long-term mortality was independent of other factors, including age, marriage, cardiac function and the root cause of heart failure.” In other words, the poor health decisions associated with depression are not tied to variables such as how old a person is or what the status of his or her marriage is.
So where does that leave us in terms of mental outlook and heart health?
“Humankind was given a sense of humor for a reason. People who have a way to release tension seem to do better,” said Sidney Smith, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Science and Medicine.