Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Happiness and Heart Disease

Laughter is one of the best forms of medicine!

A few years ago, I read an article in a medical journal about a research study conducted by cardiologist Professor Michael Miller of the University of Maryland medical school.

Prof. Miller got a group of subjects to watch a funny movie for 15 minutes. Measuring the blood flow in their peripheral arteries, he found that watching the movie resulted in relaxation and increase of blood flow through these arteries for as long as 45 minutes afterwards — an increase that was comparable to the effects of aerobic exercise! In his book Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, he recommends at least 15 minutes of hearty laughter every day as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Miller’s study is one of several making us realise that jogging every day and taking three different blood pressure lowering tablets are not the only remedy for preventing heart disease. Now don’t get me wrong — I am not for a moment advocating that you stop going for your daily walk, throw all your tablets into the garbage bin and simply spend your time seated laughing uproariously in your armchair. The message I am advocating here is that looking after your emotions is as important as looking after your blood pressure.

In fact it may be one of the best ways of controlling your blood pressure!

Another research study on a group of 209 women from the University of Pittsburghshowed that the most optimistic women (optimism being measured by standard psychological tests) had very little thickening in the carotid arteries supplying the brain when compared to those who scored low on the optimism test.

These days, even more research studies are revealing that happiness, laughter and the love of friends are as important in protecting you from heart disease as are keeping your cholesterol under control and reducing the clottability of your blood.

We now know a lot about heart disease — some of the factors that can cause it, many of the things that place us at risk of developing it, and plenty of effective medications and surgical techniques that can prevent us dying from premature heart attacks and strokes. But these do not provide the whole picture. Why is it that some folk do all the correct things and yet end up with a heart attack, while others eat all the butter, Kalu Pork curry and coconut oil that they want, become obese and overweight — but live to a ripe old age with nary a touch of angina?

Good genes certainly have a lot to do with longevity — but we now realise that our emotional health and outlook on life have a great influence on our state of health. Loneliness, depression and hostility have as much of a role in the development and progression of heart disease as do biochemistry and lipid levels.

“Science” says Prof. Dean Ornish, the American cardiologist who pioneered a successful lifestyle programme that could reverse heart disease, “is documenting the healing values of love, community, compassion and service — values that are part of almost all spiritual traditions. Even when you eat right, exercise properly and avoid smoking, loneliness increases your risk of early death.”

Now if you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure or diabetes, and your doctor has prescribed medications for you, please continue to take these medications.

But don’t forget to spend some time watching a funny movie, sitting (with or without a drink) and sittig down to chat on non-controversial topics with your family and friends, and laughing at the antics of our politicians.

It will all be good for your heart.

I would even venture the opinion that Laughter is still one of the best forms of medicine!

One comment on “Happiness and Heart Disease

  1. Heather
    May 21, 2020

    Excellent – we watched a funny movie & as you mention laughter is the best medicine . Thank you once again for another great article

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This entry was posted on May 20, 2020 by in Health Matters and tagged , .
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