5 Ways to Be Happier
Have a chuckle -- and your arteries will thank you. A March 2005 study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore, showed for the first time that mirth may promote heart health by making blood vessels work more efficiently. Twenty healthy, nonsmoking male and female volunteers watched clips from two movies selected to provoke opposite emotional extremes -- the disturbingly violent opening scene of 1998's Saving Private Ryan and a hilarious sequence from Kingpin, a 1996 comedy. The effect on an artery in the arm was measured before and after by ultrasound.
The two films produced dramatically different effects. Viewing the Private Ryan scene caused the volunteers' blood vessels to constrict, reducing flow by an average of 35 percent. Chortling over the comedy, however, increased the subjects' blood flow by 22 percent -- an improvement similar to that induced by aerobic exercise, without the aches and pains, as researchers noted. Although they aren't sure why laughter has such a powerfully positive effect, the experts speculate that either the movements of the diaphragm as we chuckle, or possibly the release of such feel-good chemicals as endorphins, may be the explanation.