Researchers at Osaka University in Japan assigned 79 people between the ages of 40 and 74 to one of three groups. Thirty-two were assigned to a music group where they listened to music and sang with music therapists. Thirty participants participated in laughter yoga, which combines breathing exercises with laughter stimulated through playful eye contact, plus watched a traditional Japanese comedy show called Rakugo. Each session took place for one hour twice a week for three months. The remaining 17 were controls who neither listened to music nor participated in the laughter sessions.

At the end of the study, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions, those who listened to music experienced a 6 mmHg decrease in blood pressure. Those in the laughter group had a decrease of 5 mmHg.

The beneficial effects of laughter and music are likely due to stress reduction. Lead author Eri Eguchi, a public health researcher at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Medicine, says that the participants’ cortisol level, a stress marker, decreased as well just after the intervention sessions.

“Also, people with intervention may be more motivated to modify their health behaviors,” Eguchi added. “The data showed that the amount of exercise increased in the intervention group, but not in non-intervention group.”

Researchers aren’t sure if the interventions will persist on a long-term basis, and more study is needed to further evaluate the findings.