You probably smile many times throughout the day without even realizing it, but this simple act can have a big impact on your wellbeing. Some people say a smile can light up a room, but it can also do much more. Scientists have linked smiling to lower blood pressure, stress relief, and improved attractiveness, just to name a few. This week, we’ll cover the science of smiling, answering some common questions (Does it really take more muscles to frown? Why are they so contagious?) and explaining the physical and psychological processes that make your grin so vital to your health and happiness.
Smiling to Ward Off Disease
Tension and anxiety can compromise your immune system’s functioning, making it harder for you to fight off disease. Smiling naturally relaxes the rest of your body so it can better fight off any type of illness. In addition to overall stress relief, a 2011 study on hospitalized children found that those who got to smile and laugh with “tale tellers, puppeteers, and handicraft artists” had over an eight percent increase in lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that circulates throughout the immune system to protect your body from disease. Next time you’re feeling stressed or starting to come down with a cold, try smiling more to help your immune system do its job.
The Neuroscience of Smiling
Recent research has found that smiling affects your brain chemistry. In her Psychology Today blog “There’s Magic In Your Smile,” Sarah Stevenson explains: “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain…smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons [cells that send nerve impulses] to communicate…The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well.” These chemical compounds can notably improve your mood.
Flexing Your Smile Muscles
You’ve probably heard that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile, but this is a myth. According to this report on ZidBits, smiling takes 12 muscles, while frowning requires just 11. Even though frowning requires fewer muscles, it still typically takes more effort, because “people tend to smile more, which means the relevant muscles are in better shape. When muscles are in better shape, they require less energy (effort) when used.” So when you smile, take pride in the fact that you’re showing off your muscles, and enjoy one of the most fun workouts you can get!
They Really Are Contagious
Louis Armstrong sang “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you,” and science backs him up. In 2003, a group of scientists used neuroimaging, which records minute changes in the brain’s blood flow, to determine that when subjects saw someone smiling, the parts of their brain used for smiling also activated, causing them to beam right back. So if you want to improve your friends and family members’ immune systems, neurological conditions, and musculature, all you have to do is smile.
Your Smile Starts with Healthy Teeth
Some people avoid smiling because they are self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth. Dr. Flanagan offers numerous cosmetic dentistry treatments to enhance your smile, as well as general care to keep your teeth clean and healthy. Contact Cindy Flanagan, D.D.S. to schedule an appointment and enjoy teeth worth showing off.