Humor and Laughter Promote a Healthy Heart

[This article was adapted from McGhee, P. (2011).  Humour, Health and Happiness: How to Get the FUNtastic Benefits of Humour into Your Life.  Singapore: MindEdge.  This book is prepared for a general reading audience in Asia and is shipped out of Singapore.  To order (and for shipping inquiries), contact MindEdge at  References for the research discussed here (and all other humor and health research discussed at this website) are presented in McGhee, P.  (2010).  Humor: The  Lighter Path to Resilience and Health.  Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse (]

 Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in most industrialized nations; it is responsible for about 20% of deaths.  We have long known about such risk factors as a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and family history, but the fact that these factors only account for half the incidents of CHD has led researchers to cast their net more widely in recent years to find additional things that start some individuals down the path toward CHD. 

Research has made it clear that one of these additional risk factors is your daily emotional state.  Learning to manage your emotions, so that you do not wallow in depression, anxiety or anger (along with doing the right thing in terms of diet, exercise, smoking, etc.) is important for maximizing your chances of sustaining a healthy heart well into your senior years.  Other articles at this website establish that humor is a powerful tool you can use to manage your daily emotions.

The research on humor and cardiac health has only recently begun, but it suggests that humor can play an important role in promoting cardiac health in both healthy individuals and those who have already suffered a heart attack.  When a comparison was made between groups of people who were similar in key respects, but differed in terms of whether they a) had suffered a heart attack (or undergone coronary artery bypass surgery) or b) had no history of coronary heart disease, the two groups differed in two key ways.  The heart disease group laughed less and scored lower on a test of sense of humor.

This doesn’t make a strong case for the impact of humor, of course, since it doesn’t establish the direction of cause.  It may be that the heart disease group laughed less and scored lower on the sense of humor test precisely because they had heart problems.  A stronger argument for humor causing improved heart health was obtained in a study in which high cardiac-risk diabetic patients suffering from hypertension and hyperlipidemia (elevated level of blood lipids) viewed a 30-minute humor video daily (each person chose the video they wanted to watch) for a year as an addition to their standard diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia therapies.  In comparison with a similar group who did not receive a daily diet of humor, the humor group suffered a lower incidence of myocardial infarction during the year.

 An 82-year-old man went to the doctor to get a physical.  A few days later, the doctor spotted him walking down the street with a woman half his age on his arm.  The doctor said, “You’re really doing great aren’t you?”

The man answered, “Just doin’ what you said, Doc: ‘Get a hot momma and be cheerful.’”

The doctor said, “No! No!  I said, ‘You’ve got a heart murmur.  Be careful!’”

 Equally exciting evidence comes from a study of people who have already had a heart attack.  They were randomly assigned to two groups before going through a standard cardiac rehab program for an entire year.  Some patients just went through the regular rehab program, going to the hospital three times a week.  Others also watched a comedy video while they were there for their rehab procedure.  Each patient got to choose the video watched, so they presumably selected one that was funny to them. 

At the end of one year, the comedy-watching group had suffered significantly fewer additional heart attacks during the 12-month period, along with fewer episodes of cardiac arrhythmia.  The patients who watched comedy videos also had significantly lower blood pressure (there were no blood pressure differences between the groups at the beginning of the study).  So humor plays an important role in promoting cardiac health even if you’ve already had a heart attack.

Note: In all articles posted at this website, specific health and other benefits will generally be attributed to humor.  However, it should be noted that in more than 90% of the research on humor and health, it is impossible to sort out the extent to which any health benefits associated with exposure to humor (or the possession of a good sense of humor) are a result of the mental/emotional experience of humor vs. the physical act of laughter that is typically associated with humor.  The specific benefits of laughter will be discussed in a future article.

This article may not be copied or reproduced without the permission of Paul McGhee.