Mark Twain once said, "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place."
Little did he know how wise and truly ahead of his time he was; scientists and doctors around the world are finding more evidence every day of how laughter can do much more than simply bring on a smile. Studies now support long-held beliefs that a sense of humor not only sustains good health, but can help improve the health of the seriously ill.
"The old saying that 'laughter is the best medicine,' appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart," says Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "We don't know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with the impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels."
"The ability to laugh—either naturally or as learned behavior—may have important implications in societies such as the US where heart disease remains the number one killer," says Miller. "We know that exercise, not just smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list."
Additionally, researchers for the American Heart Association found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations when compared to people the same age without heart disease.