When it comes to your heart health, the old adage ‘laughter is the best medicine’ might not be as far off the mark as you might think.
It is more than just common knowledge that a healthy lifestyle improves and maintains good heart health. Keeping to a good fitness schedule, eating a balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals, not smoking/drinking excessive amounts and managing your weight all combine to helping your heart.
But did you know that having a good sense of humour can be just as good for your heart as all the above?
Why is it important to manage your cardiovascular health?
Keeping your cardiovascular health in check is probably the most important thing you can do to help your body and your heart on a day to day basis. Poor cardiovascular health can lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD) which is a general term that describes a disease of the heart or the blood vessels.
What is CVD you ask? It is the reducing of the blood flow to the heart, brain or body as a result of a blood clot (thrombosis) or a build up of fatty deposits inside arteries that cause the artery to harden and narrow (atherosclerosis).
The four main types of CVD are:
- Coronary Heart Disease – occurs when your coronary arteries become blocked or reduced in size due to build up of fatty material, obstructing the oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart
- Stroke – a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off
- Peripheral Arterial Disease – also known as Peripheral Vascular Disease, this occurs when there’s a blockage in the arteries to your limbs (usually your legs)
- Aortic Disease – the most common type of aortic disease is an aortic aneurysm, which is condition whereby the wall of the aorta becomes weakened bulges outwards.
Stress and the heart
Whilst stress in itself is NOT a direct risk factor for your cardiovascular health, it is possible that it may contribute to your risk level depending on your coping mechanisms.
Stress can lead to over drinking, smoking more and overeating which can all certainly increase your risk of cardiovascular disease which increased and excessive stress levels can contribute to everything from high blood pressure to asthma and ulcers.
However, there is no direct evidence to suggest that stress causes coronary heart disease or heart attacks, but changing small elements of your lifestyle can help you deal with stress better – thus helping your heart in the long run.
Developing a better diet and conducting regular physical activity are just two ways which can help you reduce the stress levels after a hard day’s work, but perhaps the simplest thing you can do is laugh.
Bring on the belly laughs
Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Centre were the first to discover the correlation between laughter and the healthy function of blood vessels in the body back in 2005.
They discovered that having a good laugh increases the blood flow by causing the inner lining of your blood vessels (the endothelium) to dilate. The change is said to be similar to the effects of taking part in aerobic exercise or the use of a cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins.
However, the difference is that laughter can occur multiple times a day, is spontaneous and has an immediate effect on the body.
Laughing for your cardiovascular health
Here’s where we get a bit technical, but trust us – all the below is good news, and it all happens courtesy of jokes, laughs and the relaxing of the body.
- Laughter causes the release of beta-endorphins in the hypothalamus, which also allows for an increased release of nitric oxide. This then dilates the blood vessels allowing for great blood flow and improved cardiovascular health. Another benefit of nitric oxide is that the chemical also protects the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing the formation of cholesterol. Nifty!
- Laughter has an effect on our biochemistry and can lead to a reduction in stress hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine. And we know that stress can contribute to a negative effect on our blood vessels
- Laughter boosts the production of antibodies, which subsequently improves our immune system by making it stronger and healthier
So there you have it, laughter might just in fact be the best medicine – well for your heart anyway. You can now safely say that watching a good comedy movie and having a laugh is good for your heart. It helps to reduce your stress levels, generates endorphins and dilates your blood vessels for improved cardiovascular health.
If you would like to learn more about the heart, your cardiovascular health, defibrillators and everything in between why not visit our FAQ page which is packed full of useful, bite size information .
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