Listening to your favorite tunes or funny jokes could lower your blood pressure, perhaps even as much as cutting salt from your diet or dropping 10 pounds, according to the preliminary results of a small study presented Friday at American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta.
In the study, Japanese researchers found that people who took part in bimonthly group sessions built around music or laughter lowered their systolic blood pressure (the top number in the reading) by an average of five to six points after three months. By contrast, the average blood-pressure reading in a control group that received neither therapy didn't budge.
Though relatively modest, blood-pressure reductions of the size seen in the study have been linked to a 5% to 15% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke, says Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore.
"I think there's definitely a physiological effect going on, some sort of mind-heart connection," says Miller, who was not involved in the new study but has conducted similar research.
Researchers at the Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine randomly assigned 90 men and women between the ages of 40 and 74 to receive hourlong music or laughter sessions every other week, or no therapy at all.
In the music sessions, participants listened, sang, and stretched to their choice of Japanese pop, classical, or jazz. (They were also encouraged to listen to music at home.) The laughter sessions included listening to humorous Japanese storytelling somewhat akin to stand-up comedy and laughter yoga, a practice of faking laughter until it feels natural.
After three months, the average systolic blood pressure in the music and laughter groups had dropped by 6 mmHg and 5 mmHg, respectively, whereas there was no change in the control group. What's more, measurements taken immediately before and after each therapy session revealed short-term dips of 6 mmHg to 7 mmHg associated with each session.
The three-month decline is in the range of what could be expected in someone adopting a low-salt diet, losing 10 pounds, or taking a blood-pressure-lowering medication, Miller says.