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Can Comedy Films Help Increase Your Heart Health?

Can't decide on what type of film to rent tonight? Make it a comedy and you'll be helping your heart to stay healthy, according to a study published in the journal Heart.

Have you heard? Laughing has the same effect on your heart as a bout of aerobic exercise!

For the study, 20 young adults watched segments of humorous films (such as There's Something About Mary) and sad films (such as the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan). The researchers then measured brachial artery blood flow before and one minute after scenes of laughter or sadness.

Brachial artery blood flow serves as an indicator for blood flow around the body. It was found that:

  • After watching sad movie clips, brachial artery blood flow was reduced in 14 of the 20 participants

  • Blood flow increased in 19 of the participants after they watched a scene that brought about laughter.

  • The difference in blood flow from watching sad and humorous clips was over 50 percent.

To interpret this, the researchers said that watching a funny film has the equivalent impact as a bout of aerobic exercise, while a sad film elicits responses similar to doing mental arithmetic.

The Proven Health Benefits of a Good Mood

Indeed, laughing, smiling and feeling good all appear to have a myriad of benefits to your health, even beyond the heart.

"Laughter is not dissimilar from exercise," said Lee Berk, an associate professor of health promotion and education who studies laughter at Loma Linda University in California. "It's not going to cure someone from stage three cancer, but in terms of prevention it does make sense. In a sense, we have our own apothecary on our shoulders. Positive emotions such as laughter affect your biology."

Even just smiling and keeping an optimistic attitude can do wonders. One study by researchers at the University of California found that it was possible to predict a woman's future success by the intensity of her smile!

Optimistic people, it turns out, also have stronger immune systems, which means they're better equipped to fight off disease. Says Christopher Peterson, Ph.D, a University of Michigan professor who's been studying optimism's link to health for over two decades:

"The research is very clear. This is not some social science generalization. There is a link between optimistic attitudes and good health. It has been measured in a variety of ways. Overall, we have found that optimistic people are healthier. Their biological makeup is different. They have a more robust immune system."

As though you need another reason to smile and laugh, a study published in the November 2004 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found that elderly optimistic people, those who expected good things to happen (rather than bad things), were less likely to die than pessimists -- by 55 percent! And, that number jumped to 71 percent after the researchers adjusted the results for other measures of health (smoking, age, exercise, etc.).

Funniest Films of All Time

Looking for a funny movie to get you laughing tonight? The American Film Institute released this list of the 100 Funniest American Movies of all time. Here are the top 25 to give you some great comedy ideas. (And don't worry if you're not into films. Other long sessions of humor -- such as taking in a live comedy show -- are likely to have the same effect as watching a comedy film.)

The American Film Institute named Some Like It Hot the funniest American movie of all time -- perfect to add some healthy laugh time to your evening at home.

  1. Some Like It Hot
  2. Tootsie
  3. Dr. Strangelove
  4. Annie Hall
  5. Duck Soup
  6. Blazing Saddles
  7. M*A*S*H
  8. It Happened One Night
  9. The Graduate
  10. Airplane!
  11. The Producers
  12. A Night At The Opera
  13. Young Frankenstein
  1. Bringing Up Baby
  2. The Philadelphia Story
  3. Singin' In The Rain
  4. The Odd Couple
  5. The General
  6. His Girl Friday
  7. The Apartment
  8. A Fish Called Wanda
  9. Adam's Rib
  10. When Harry Met Sally...
  11. Born Yesterday
  12. The Gold Rush

Recommended Reading

The Major Health Benefits of Going Barefoot (Really!)

Beware of Hidden Smiles: They May Affect Your Judgment More Than You Think


EurekAlert January 16, 2006

AFI'S 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time

Swedish Medical Center

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