Laughter and music not only lift mood, they might also drop blood pressure among middle-aged adults, a recent study suggests.

The Study

Japanese researchers divided 79 adults, aged 40 to 74, into three groups, studying the effects of one-hour music sessions every two weeks on one group, laughter sessions on another group and no intervention for the remaining participants (the control group).

For three months, music therapists guided 32 participants in listening to, singing and stretching with music. They were also encouraged to listen to music at home.

Laughter sessions were led by trained laughter yogis, with 30 participants performing laughter yoga-a combination of breathing exercises and laughter stimulated through playful eye contact--and listening to Rakugo, Japanese comic storytelling.

Blood pressure readings taken immediately after the sessions were 6 points lower in the music group and 7 points lower among the laughter participants compared with measurements taken just prior to the sessions, the study authors said.

Improvements in blood pressure were still seen three months later, according to the results.

No change in blood pressure was recorded among participants who received neither type of intervention.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is linked to heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems.

The study results were presented at the American Heart Association conference in Atlanta.

Possible Explanations

"The participants] cortisol level, a stress marker, decreased just after the intervention sessions," said lead author Eri Eguchi, MPH, a public health researcher at Osaka University's Graduate School of Medicine in Japan. We think this is one of the explanations for the physiological processes.

"We think yoga breathing may play some role for lowering blood pressure," Eguchi added, noting that his team will examine the link in upcoming research.

Also, people enrolled in a study program may be more motivated to modify their health behaviors, Eguchi noted. The data showed that the amount of exercise increased in the intervention group, but not in the non-intervention (control) group.

Expert Commentary

Franz Messerli, MD, director of the hypertension program at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, said he was skeptical of the results because the researchers knew all along which participants were in the intervention and control groups.

"The mechanisms involved (in lowering blood pressure) are not entirely clear," Dr. Messerli said. "Exercise does the same thing, and just sitting down will lower blood pressure, too."

Dr. Messerli said Eguchi could have "objectivated" the results by measuring participants' blood pressure over 24-hour periods before and after intervention sessions.

A Different Opinion

But John Ciccone, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in West Orange, New Jersey, contended that the study highlights "interesting physiology" about the role stress plays in blood pressure.

Alternative Techniques Becoming Mainstream

In Dr. Ciccone's practice, holistic nurses offer music therapy for stress management, a growing field that can incorporate techniques such as reflexology, acupressure and others, he said.

"I think there has been interesting data that shows that relaxation techniques, regardless of the technique, can possibly affect borderline elevated blood pressure," Dr. Ciccone said.

"They're not outside the mainstream anymore," he added. "I think a lot of what was considered alternative is no longer alternative."

Outrageous! Blood Pressure Drugs Can Raise Blood Pressure

Researchers recently analyzed 945 adults with elevated systolic (top number) blood pressure.

Results: Among those who had low levels of the blood pressure-controlling enzyme renin and were treated with a beta-blocker or an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, 16% had a significant increase in systolic pressure.

When prescribed a blood pressure drug: Ask your doctor to check your renin levels—if high, a diuretic or calcium channel blocker may be a better medication option.

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