Washington: To give your heart a healthy boost, watch comedies such as ‘The Hangover’ or ‘There's Something About Mary’ and skip the dramatic nail-biters, new research suggests.

Comedic films are literally good for your heart, the researchers said, while movies in the horror, drama, or war genres, regardless of your cinematic tastes, can cause stress that damages your vascular function.

New research presented this week in Paris at the European Society of Cardiology 2011 Congress explores the role of movies on your heart health. In the study, researchers from the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore in the US showed subjects the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, an intense 15-minute segment depicting Allied forces storming the beach of Normandy in 1944.

Researchers were also shown segments of ‘There's Something About Mary’, ‘Shallow Hal’, and ‘Kingpin’, all comedies by the Farrelly brothers.

When subjects viewed the comedies, the lining of their vessels expanded. Just the opposite happened while watching the war film: the subjects' blood vessel linings constricted, lessening blood flow.

"The take-home message here is that laughter is great for your heart," said Dr. Michael Miller, lead investigator in the study. "The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium after laughing was consistent and similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic exercise or statin use."

Other enjoyable ways to save your heart on movie night? Skip the popcorn and eat dark chocolate. Earlier research has established a link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow, often attributed to antioxidants.

However new research announced at the same conference this week finds that in 100,000 patients, with and without heart disease, those who ate the most chocolate had a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease.
But don't get too excited.

The findings come with an important caveat: the healthful molecules are found in the bitter cacao, not in the sugar and fat with which they are routinely combined. So opt for good quality dark chocolate and a small piece will suffice, say heart experts.

"You don't need a whole bar," note Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Mike Roizen, the authors of the best-selling YOU and RealAge book series. "Artery-friendly flavonols in dark chocolate are so powerful that a daily piece the size of a Hershey's Kiss can lower your blood pressure."