How often do we hear these phrases; ‘whistle while you work' and 'laughter is the best medicine'
These are all phrases we drop into our everyday language, but is there a little bit of science behind such thoughts?
- Studies have shown that smiling boosts your immune system by stimulating your body to produce more white blood cells (WBC). Hospitalised children visited by story-tellers and puppeteers who made them smile and laugh had higher WBC counts than children who weren’t visited.
- Smiling lowers stress levels and anxiety. When endorphins are released the level of cortisol in your body is reduced. Studies also show that smiling when you are in a stressful situation lowers your heart rate, which will relax you and reduce your unpleasant feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Smiling improves your mood. The movement of the muscles in your face when you smile triggers the release of endorphins, giving you a ‘runners high’ without the running.
- It is said that smiling helps you live longer – 7 years longer according to one study. This is due to the effects of reducing stress, helping your heart, and thereby keeping the body healthier for longer.
- Smiling reduces physical pain. Endorphins act as the body’s natural pain killers. For chronic sufferers of pain, laughing can be very helpful - “laugh off the pain!"
- Fake it till you make it! Fake smiles work as well as real smiles. The brain doesn’t distinguish between real and fake smiles – it interprets the positioning of the facial muscles in the same way. This is the ‘facial feedback hypothesis’. The more you stimulate your brain to release endorphins, the happier and more relaxed you will feel.
- Laughing can give you all the benefits of exercising. How? Well, laughing expands the lungs, stretches some muscles, and stimulates homeostasis, replenishing the cells with a good increase in oxygen intake.
And finally... to satisfy the curious amongst us… why is smiling contagious? Studies report that seeing a person smiling activates the part of your brain that controls your facial movement, which leads to a grin. Who knew how powerful a smile could be for your health and wellbeing – and we haven't even started on how much it will help the person you are smiling at!