When’s the last time you had a good laugh? Not just a little giggle, but the kind of laugh that makes your abdomen hurt or even tears form in your eyes? Not only does laughter make you feel good, but it is proven to have positive effects on your mental health, immune system and even vascular function.
How Laughter Works
Laughter is a common physical response to happiness. Our bodies are affected by all our emotions – the good and the not so good. Karthikeyan Ananth, M.D., a Henry Ford Health cardiologist, says emotions like stress, depression and loneliness have both immediate and ongoing negative effects on your heart.
“When you are angry, your body releases stress hormones that can cause inflammation and muscle spasms that can trigger heart attacks,” says Dr. Ananth. “Similarly, when you are anxious, these stress hormones release chemicals to the body that promote vascular dysfunction and increase your risk of heart disease.”
Laughter eliminates many of the negative symptoms associated with stress. When you laugh, your body releases hormones called endorphins. These hormones make you feel good and block out those negative emotions. No wonder you feel better after laughing!
Making Your Heart Happy
Laughter is an easy way to take care of your heart. It doesn’t require a huge lifestyle change, but it may encourage you to find the happiness in your life each day.
Here are just some of the ways laughter benefits you heart health:
- Boosts your immune system. Laughing increases the illness-fighting cells in your body, meaning you’re less likely to get sick or develop an infection. If you do become ill, your body is more equipped to respond.
- Decreases your risk of heart attacks. When you laugh, your heart rate increases, and you take many deep breaths. This mean that more oxygenated blood is circulated through your body – improving your vascular function.
- Prevents heart disease. Improved vascular function and circulation can also help reduce your risk of a heart disease diagnosis. Proper blood flow keeps your heart working at a steady pace.
- Helps you lose weight. If you stress out too much, levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, can increase and have negative effects on your body. Having too much cortisol in your body can lead to rapid weight gain. Laughing not only reduces these stress levels, but it also burns calories. And when paired with a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise, you’ll increase your chances of avoiding future heart-related issues even more!
- Reduces blood pressure. When endorphins are released to counteract the negative effects of stress hormones, your body relaxes – lowering your blood pressure. The combination of these “feel good” hormones with the lowered blood pressure improves your mood, eases anxiety and takes tension off your heart.
The benefits of laughter don’t stop at your heart! Laughter can also improve your physical and social well-being. Laughing can:
- Improve your skin
- Promote bonding in relationships
- Help with teamwork
- Diffuse conflict
- Add joy and zest to life
5 Ways to Laugh More
Get a jumpstart on your happiness and better heart health by having more laughter in your life. Not sure where to begin? Try these ideas increasing opportunities for good times:
- If your Netflix queue tends to be full of crime shows or dramas or you spend a lot of your TV viewing time on the news or sports, make sure to watch a funny movie or stand-up comedy special often too. Better yet, find some local improv shows or stand-up comedy and enjoy the experience in-person.
- One of the easiest ways to crack a smile is to spend time with close friends. Organize a fun game night – preferably one without Monopoly. Choose games that encourage group participation, like charades or Pictionary, so everyone can join in the fun.
- “Remember that one time when…” Looking back on funny memories or recalling past experiences can be a great way to share moments with others. Look through old photos and try to recall details about that moment. Why did you choose that hairstyle? What was going on? Where were you?
- When’s the last time you got family together? Organize a family outing, or even a simple family dinner. Whether you choose to get together with your immediate or extended family, is up to you. Avoid bringing up old family drama by focusing on the present. This is also a great opportunity to share memories or turn the evening into a game night!
- If you’re not laughing as much because you’re feeling lonely, consider getting a pet. Instead of a fish, get a pet that you can interact and play with. If you already have a pet, set time aside to play fetch with your dog or encourage your cat to chase a laser pointer.
How healthy is your heart? Take the heart risk quiz to find out. Then, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a heart expert at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Karthikeyan Ananth is a cardiologist who specializes in general cardiology, valve disease, cardiac risk assessment and adult congenial heart disease. He sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.