Laugh More, Live More: Your Heart Will Thank You
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
There are plenty of “rules” for healthy living that we’ve all heard about: eat plenty of fruits and veggies, exercise, don’t smoke, etc. While these are super-important for a healthy body, heart, and mind, there are some less well-known guidelines— detailed below — that are just as critical to you staying healthy…and happy. I call these “Live the life you love” rules.
Take time to laugh every day. Laughter really is the best medicine as that old saying goes — for good reason. When you laugh, your entire circulatory system gets energized and sends 20 percent more blood flowing through your body — thanks to the fact that the lining of your blood vessel walls relax and expand.1 This increased blood flow pumps more oxygenated blood to the heart and throughout the entire body — and reduces stress in the process…all good things! Watch a funny video, read a comic, make it a point to get together with a friend who has a great sense of humor, or just do something — anything — that makes you laugh.
It is the month of romance and Valentine’s Day — but that’s not the reason we’re recommending this tip. One study from Arizona State University2 actually found that people who are more affectionate overall have less stress and lower cholesterol levels — both important for heart health.
Love what you do.
It’s no surprise to hear that we Americans work longer hours, take fewer vacations, and retire later in life than people in any other country. And yet, so many of us don’t love what we do. That’s a dangerous combination, found Tel Aviv researchers in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.3 In fact, people who had the most stress at their jobs and were the most dissatisfied with their work developed heart problems at a 79 percent higher rate than their less-anxious co-workers.
Appreciate stillness and silence.
Stand outside late at night or very early in the morning, when no one is around. The silence is almost breathtaking, particularly in a world where we’re surrounded by noise and energy almost 24/7. Take time to seek out and appreciate this silence more. One study, published in the European Heart Journal, actually found that prolonged loud noise and loud sounds increase our risk of a heart attack. Men exposed to prolonged noise were found to have a 50 percent higher risk of heart attack; women were found to have an even greater risk, an almost 300 percent higher risk of heart attack.4
Enjoy restful sleep — more.
It seems to me that sleep, these days, is an after thought for so many of us in our busy lives; we live on adrenaline — to help us get more things done in our already busy days. Take a step back from this and create a nightly sleep ritual that gets your body and your brain in the mood for sleep: buy a small reading light, a good novel, and keep your phone off and away from your bedroom. Brew yourself a cup of calming herbal tea if you like. Even take a bubble bath. But shut off the TV and the computer before you start your nightly ritual.
Doing so will help you to get more restful slumber — and that goes a long way when it comes to your health. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, every extra hour of sleep you can add to your nightly average reduces your risk of coronary calcification (a cause of heart disease) by 33 percent. The reason, say researchers: when you're even a little sleep deprived, your body releases stress hormones that constrict arteries and cause inflammation.5
There’s a saying by Confucius that I love: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Follow this advice in every aspect of your life — ork, love, and life — and you will be happier and your heart, a lot healthier. Guaranteed.
1 “Amazing Facts About Heart Health and Heart Disease,” Stephanie Watson; WebMD;
“Laughter is Good for Your Heart, According to a New UMMC Study”;
2 “Kissing in Marital and Cohabiting Relationships: Effects on Blood Lipids, Stress, and Relationship Satisfaction,” Kory Floyd, Justin P. Boren, Annegret F. Hannawa, et al., Western Journal of Communication; Vol. 73, No. 2, April–June 2009, pp. 113–133;
3 “Burnout and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Study of 8838 Employees”; Sharon Toker, PhD, Samuel Melamed, PhD, Shlomo Berliner, MD, et al.; Psychosomatic Medicine; October 2012, 74; 785;
4 “Noise burden and the risk of myocardial infarction,” Willich, SN; Wegscheider, K; Stallman, M; et al; European Heart Journal; Feb. 2006; 27(3); 276-282; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16308324
5 “Short Sleep Duration and Incident Coronary Artery Calcification”; Christopher Ryan King, BS; Kristen L. Knutson, PhD; Paul J. Rathouz, PhD, et al.; The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 24, 2008; 300 (24);