February is heart health month, and when it comes to your heart, here’s why laughter really may be the best medicine. It may sound like a barrel of monkeys, but research suggests that a good laugh may just be the punch line for good health.

When you laugh, your brain activates a series of neurons called a reward pathway. The reward pathways triggered by humor cause a sense of euphoria and can lead to a reduction in stress.

Chronic high levels of stress interrupt sleep and can cause a host of health issues, from heart disease and diabetes to depression and anxiety. Laughter, on the other hand, does the opposite.

In addition to easing stress, research suggests laughing may decrease blood pressure, reduce artery inflammation, increase HDL (“good” cholesterol), lessen pain, reduce muscle tension, improve your immune system, boost morale and enrich your quality of life. Although research on the subject is limited, results suggest that a laugh a day may be just what you need to keep your heart healthy and improve your overall well-being.

Today, humor therapy is often used as part of an integrated regimen to treat chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and asthma. Convinced about the benefits of laughter for older adults, a hospital in Washington, DC even created a “Laugh Café” where seniors meet for hour-long laugh sessions.

If you’re looking for an easy way to help improve your health, don’t forget to laugh each day. Hang out with funny people, read a humorous book or see a silly movie. While humor is contagious, its only temporary side effects are shortness of breath and a sore belly but it can provide a host of long-term benefits.

To find a Heart Specialist near you call (716) 706-2113.

This article is reproduced from the Catholic Health Blog. Catholic Health Mercy Hospital is the premiere local sponsor for the Buffalo-Niagara Go Red for Women Luncheon this Friday, February 8th at the Lexus Club. For more great heart health topics, pick up the February issue of Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine on stands now!

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