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From the brain to the heart: a smile benefits your health almost as much as a natural drug

Every first Friday of October, World Smile Day is celebrated, key to eliminating tensions and making us happier. It has been celebrated since 1999 thanks to the initiative of Harvey Ball, the creator of the world famous ‘smiley face’.

“Smiling causes a decrease in cortisol levels and, therefore, a reduction in stress, which increases well-being. It allows you to connect with yourself and with others, generates bonds and predisposes social connection”, tells us the psychologist Pilar Conde, technical director of Clínicas Origen.

In addition to the psychological benefits, smiling is a great ally for physical health. “Among other advantages, when we laugh we are involving 430 muscles of the body, some that we do not use regularly, so it is a very complete exercise,” adds dentist Iván Malagón, director of Iván Malagón Clinic.

Indeed, a smile engages the muscles that surround the eyes, the neck and the jaws, causing them to exercise; and facial movement causes the muscular system to relax, releasing tension. Disciplines known as facial yoga show that training these muscles with movements like the ones we do when we smile releases stress and improves breathing; Apart from activating and toning the muscles of the face, improving the circulation of blood and the oxygen that circulates through our face.

It’s not a joke, when it comes to relieving stress, doctors recommend more smiles and laughter because by stimulating circulation and helping to relax muscles, they can also reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. .

Yes, a smile can help improve the oxygenation of our body, thus regulating the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, strengthens our immune system, reduces the perception of pain, has benefits for the heart, improves intestinal regulation and digestion. . This is not talk, the scientific literature has left evidence of works in which the associations between the frequency of daily laughter with heart disease and stroke were evaluated.

Stress levels are known to have a direct impact on our heart health and can predispose to lifestyle conditions like high blood pressure. Conversely, reduced stress levels due to increased endorphin release will ultimately contribute to better heart health. So the more you smile, the more feel-good hormones called ‘endorphins’ are released.

A smile also releases other chemical compounds in our body such as serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline that act as natural painkillers, causing a state of calm that relieves pain.

In addition, these hormones are linked to positive thoughts. Which translates into a good vital attitude, which in turn helps the body to better fight infections. Which results in better immunity, and in times like these, we could all use an injection of optimism and immunity.

But a smile (especially those that are followed by a loud laugh) not only helps improve heart function by relieving tension, but also allows you to burn calories and, as indicated at the beginning, to work different muscles of the body. When you laugh, you expand the lungs, relax the muscles, replenish the oxygen in the cells and also stimulate homeostasis so that our body achieves the optimal balance.

According to science, the action of laughing stimulates areas of profound relevance in the brain, for example, the lateral hypothalamus, an area related to the regulation of homeostasis in our body. It also activates the brain’s amygdala, which is the first filter of emotional memory and the nerve center of the start of our emotions.

“This set of neurons plays a major role in the disappearance, natural or provoked, of any sensation of pain (what in medical jargon is known as ‘analgesia’), such as the periacudectal gray matter (PAG), which is also activates during laughter, or the hippocampus, key to our memory, according to an article published in Cambio.16 There are other circuits of special relevance located in the cortex that help to produce endorphins when we laugh, and contribute to reducing pain and increasing the feeling of well-being. Therefore, in the same way that running is not just moving the legs, laughing is much more than showing a smile”.

Indeed, its benefits are multiple, did you know that an hour of laughter burns 14 grams of fat? It is not much but theoretically this would add 5 kilos less per year if we laugh one hour per day. Don’t tell me it’s not the most fun way to protect your health, and for free!

As if that were not enough, it also helps us in our relationship with those around us, makes us look younger and even lengthens our lives. Science has been saying for decades: there is a relationship between smile and longevity.

As a curiosity, in a study that analyzed the photos of American League baseball players from the year 52, it was seen that those who appeared smiling lived an average of 7 years longer than those who were serious. Amazing, right? It is not 100% known if this gesture is responsible for increasing the years of life, but it has a great impact on its quality.

In short, laughing has an immediate effect on our brain and, consequently, the general activity of our body is modified. And it is that the action of laughing (which usually begins with a smile) stimulates areas of the brain such as the hypothalamus (homeostasis), the cerebral amygdala (emotions) and the hippocampus (memory).

Therefore, although we know that a smile will not solve all of a person’s problems, it will make them feel better and this, in one way or another, will make them see things differently, and will surely make many things easier for them. Just in case, smile!

Of course, the fake smile does not work. What we propose is that the smile becomes an attitude, an inner space from which to face the experience of life. The famous ‘Duchenne smile or genuine conscious smile’, where both the muscles of the mouth and the muscles around the eyes contract, in this smile the whole face smiles. Do not think that I am naive, I suggest that you make an effort to smile, even if you have no reason, check its benefits on yourself and the effect on others.