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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Laughing Matter

Air Date: Week of

Laughter can help the heart. Host Steve Curwood talks with a University of Maryland School of Medicine researcher who found surprising results from movie-watching participants of a new study.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Now, staying healthy does seem like such a chore. Having to exercise after a long day at work, cutting out foods that are bad for you, struggling to lose weight. But, there's evidence that some of the things you like are also good for you, like drinking wine, eating dark chocolate, making love, to name a few. And, now something new has been added to that list: laughter. A recent study lead by Dr. Michael Miller, who's director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, suggests that laughing is good for your heart. Dr. Miller, hello.

MILLER: Hi, how are you?

CURWOOD: So, tell me about your study.

MILLER: Yes, well you know, we were interested in determining whether a positive influence like laughter may, in fact, have some health benefits. And so, what we did was looked at the way the vessel lining of the artery responds after having volunteers watch a movie that would cause undue stress and also have them watch a movie that would provoke laughter.

CURWOOD: What movies did you have your subjects watch?

MILLER: For the mental stress phase, the subjects watched "Saving Private Ryan." They watched the opening segment of that movie.


MILLER: Now, for the movie that caused laughter, we showed "King Pin." The men loved "King Pin." The women, some of the women did not find it amusing, so they then choose another movie and the movie they typically chose was "Something About Mary."

CURWOOD: What's the mechanism for this? How does this work?

MILLER: Well, what we believe happens is when you laugh, your blood vessels open up and it's actually the lining of the blood vessels that are dilated. This is in contrast to mental stress which causes the lining of the blood vessels to constrict.

CURWOOD: Now, what's the difference between the effects of laughing and the effects of exercising?

MILLER: Exercise also has a variety of other benefits on blood pressure and heart rate and the level of the good cholesterol which is unlikely that laughter has.

CURWOOD: Maybe the best idea is to watch "Seinfeld" while you're running on the treadmill?

MILLER: That is, you know, I think that's, that would be a great idea. Whatever makes you laugh, if "Seinfeld" makes you laugh, exercise and "Seinfeld" would be great.

CURWOOD: What's the prescription for laughter? If it's an apple a day, keeps the doctor away, how much laughter do we need to keep our hearts healthy everyday?

MILLER: That's a great question and we don't know for sure. I would profess that, perhaps, one good laugh that makes you feel real good. Laughing clinics have sprouted up. They've started in India. I believe there are some in New York.

CURWOOD: So, okay. I hope you're ready now. Did you hear this one? A guy's sitting at home, there's a knock at the door. He opens the door; he doesn't see anybody until he looks down and sees a snail on the porch. Picks up the snail and throws it as far as he can. Three years later, there's a knock at the door. He opens it, then looks down, ah, it's the same snail. The snail says, "what the hell was that all about?"

MILLER: [laughter] I'm going to have to give that to my first cousin who's a comedian.

CURWOOD: Dr. Michael Miller is director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Thanks for taking this time to laugh and talk with us today, Dr. Miller.

MILLER: Thank you, it's been my pleasure.

CURWOOD: Just ahead—how would you like to know what kind of music makes dogs happy? One woman found out by asking them. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund, supporting the creation, performance and recording of new music; the Kresge Foundation, building the capacity of nonprofit organizations through challenge grants since 1924. On the web at k-r-e-s-g-e.org; the Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, from vision to innovative impact, 75 years of philanthropy. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Charlie Parker: "Mohawk" Bird: The Original Recordings of Charlie Parker (Verve) 1988, recorded in 1950]



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