Depression, on the other hand, can raise the risk of dying
from heart failure, a separate study found.
The two studies, presented at a meeting of the American College
of Cardiology in Orlando, Florida, show how psychological factors
can affect a person's health.
"We don't recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we
do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Thirty
minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter
on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system,"
said Dr. Michael Miller of the University of Maryland School
of Medicine in Baltimore.
Miller and colleagues at the school showed two movies, one
humorous, one stressful, to 20 healthy volunteers and tested
the function of their blood vessels.
The researchers specifically looked at the endothelium, the
lining of the vessels, and found that blood flow was reduced
in 14 of the 20 volunteers after stressful movie clips. But
blood flowed more freely in 19 of the 20 when they laughed at
funny movie segments.
Average blood flow increased 22 percent during laughter, and
decreased 35 percent during mental stress, they told the meeting.
"The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis
or hardening of the arteries, so, given the results of our study,
it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain
a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular
disease," Miller said in a statement.
Laughter may be almost as helpful as exercise, Miller said.
"The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar
to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without
the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise,"
In a second study, Dr Wei Jiang and colleagues at Duke University
in North Carolina followed 1,005 heart failure patients and
also tested them for depression.
Those with mild depression had a 44 percent greater risk of
dying, Jiang told the meeting.
"This adverse association of depression and increased long-term
mortality was independent of other factors, including age, marriage,
cardiac function and the root cause of the heart failure," Jiang
said in a statement.
"Approximately half of all patients with heart failure will
die within five years of diagnosis, and we believe that our
study appears to identify a group of these patients who are
at a higher risk for dying."
Jiang said it is not clear why, but he said patients with
depression tend not to exercise or take medications properly.
"Also, depressed patients tend to make unhealthy lifestyle
choices in such areas as diet and smoking," she said.