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Does one stop laughing because they get old or do they get old because they stop laughing? Have you ever heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine?” In general, you most likely already know that it’s better to laugh at the “small stuff” or frustrations in life, than to get angry, but do you know why? And how does laughter work in our favour against high blood pressure?

Laughing actually increases blood circulation throughout the body, delivering oxygen and nutrients efficiently. It is also known to help the immune system, fight stress chemicals and allows the muscles to relax. Can you imagine all of that from a simple chuckle or gut-busting belly laugh?

Stress is a principal contributor to hypertension (high blood pressure) and laughter is an excellent antidote for stress. The word hypertension literally means an increase in pressure and refers to the heart and the blood it pumps throughout the body. The chronic elevation of the force of blood pushing against the walls of our blood vessels is what is measured when a blood pressure reading is taken. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart is tasked to pump blood. Eventually, this leads to possible organ damage including illnesses like heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

The baseline measurement used for blood pressure readings is 120/80. The first number is the systolic measurement representative of the peak arteriole pressure obtained when the cuff is inflated/tightened around your arm. The latter, bottom number is the diastolic measurement of the minimum pressure in those same arteries as the cuff loosens/deflates. Any reading significantly above the baseline is what we refer to as hypertension. Blood pressure should be taken from time to time and a one off abnormal reading slightly above or below the “norm” should not be a cause for concern. No two people are the same and just as one’s weight may fluctuate from time to time, each person has an individual range of normal pressure values around which they find their “norm.”

A high blood pressure measurement may be due to stress or anxiety at the time of the reading. The slightest movement, changes in breathing or talking whilst the blood pressure is obtained is enough to contribute to false readings. In order to perform a more thorough diagnosis, your doctor/nurse may conduct a physical exam and ask for the medical history of you and your family. Doctors will need to know if you have any of the risk factors for hypertension, such as smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes or a family history of heart illness.

In the United States, a significant percentage of the minority population over 20 is known to have hypertension; men 37.6%, women 44.4% . Similar can be said of those abroad where people of African/Caribbean descent are most at risk of having high blood pressure or a stroke of all the ethnic groups in the UK.

Though the exact causes of hypertension are usually unknown, there are several factors that have been highly associated with the condition. These include:

Smoking

Obesity or being overweight

Diabetes

Lack of physical activity

High levels of salt intake (sodium sensitivity)

Vitamin D deficiency

High levels of alcohol consumption

Stress

Ageing

Medicines such as birth control pills

Genetics and a family history of hypertension

Treating of hypertension is important for reducing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. The main goal of treatment is to lower blood pressure to an adjusted normal range. High blood pressure may be treated medically, by changing lifestyle factors, or a combination of the two. Important lifestyle changes include losing weight, avoiding/quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, reducing salt intake, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption as well as minimising stress.

Aside from simply altering our mood for a moment and making us feel better, laughter reduces stress related hormones, lowering the amount of oxidation in the blood vessels. In addition, it relaxes muscles, making for less strain on the blood vessels, hence reducing pressure. A good laugh can be internalised and relived so you can over-indulge in that treat as much as you desire. How many times have you thought back to a joke or humorous situation and chuckled to yourself. Each time you do so, your body responds positively.

Did you know that people who laugh regularly have a lower standing blood pressure than those who don’t? Like exercise, the blood pressure goes up during the laughter but then drops significantly after the laugh. Okay, laughter by itself is not going to replace a good diet and regular exercise, but it can go a long way in improving your point of view and reducing stress. And that’s not something to laugh about!

By Laillah-Crystal Banda (BA. PGDip. Biomed)

Crystal (seen in the featured image) contributed articles to Your magazine and was a dear friend of most of us on the team. Sadly Crystal passed away over the weekend which was devastating news to everyone who knew and loved her. Crystal was full of fun, laughter and love and her memory will live on as the ripples that Crystal caused in the world will never be forgotten.

Rest in perfect peace Laillah Crystal Banda.

Samantha Rockson

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