Beyond Food: How Smiling More can Improve your Health

I’ve been wanting to start this section of the blog for a long time.  I’ll be using the Beyond Food columns to share information about things you can do to nourish yourself and improve your health that are not food.  Let’s explore the many things that can nourish us… starting with a smile!

Back in 2012, researchers at the University of Kansas found that smiling has a positive effect on our happiness and physical health.  In the study, they measured how participants responded to stress while making a fake smile, creating a real/natural smile and then while having a neutral face.  The results showed that smiling during a taxing task—not just after—can help the body and mind recover more quickly from the stressful event.  Previous studies have shown similar benefits that last after stressful events have passed.

Bottom line.  Smiling is good for you.

Let’s look at some of the reasons WHY…

When you smile, your body releases endorphins.  Endorphins are responsible for making us feel happy, and they also help lower stress levels.  The movements of the muscles in your face are interpreted by your brain, which in turn releases endorphins.

Faking a smile (or a laugh) works as well as the real thing—the brain doesn’t differentiate between real or fake as it interprets the positioning of the facial muscles in the same way. This is known as the facial feedback hypothesis. The more we smile and laugh, the more often we feel happier and relaxed.

  • endorphins act as the body’s natural pain killers. Laughing and smiling can be very effective in chronic pain management.  It also helps with short term pain issues. 
  • endorphins decrease cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that becomes more active when we feel stressed.  It contributes to unpleasant feelings and anxiety but also impacts heart rate and blood pressure. By lowering cortisol and keeping it balanced, we can reduce negative feelings and feel better!

Smile more often:

  • Smile and laugh regularly. Your brain does not know the difference between a fake or real smile, and by doing so more often you will feel better, and become more likely to smile and laugh more spontaneously.
  • Try to smile when you are in the midst of something challenging.  Personally, I think about something that makes me genuinely happy and I lift the corners of my mouth, soften my eyes and smile into the thought… but the research shows you can just make a smile and go from there.
  • Spend time with people who smile.  Just like laughter, smiles are contagious… it is hard to keep a straight face when people around you are smiling.

Blueberries for Your Brain

Blueberries contain high levels of flavonoids.

Flavonoids are super supportive of brain function.

In one study, participants with the most flavonoids in their diets had better cognitive function over a ten-year period than those with the least. Another study linked daily blueberry consumption to improvements in memory and increased blood flow to the brain.  Proanthocyanidins (a category of flavonoid), protect the watery and fatty parts of the brain against damage from some environmental toxins.  Impressive.

Plus, these little gems taste great, are rich in fiber and antioxidants and support overall health too!

Start incorporating more blueberries into your daily diet.  Check out my recipe below for a beautiful blueberry sorbet that can help!

 

This sorbet is so lovely. 

4-5 cups frozen blueberries
juice of 1 lime
2 Tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
torn mint leaves

Add all ingredients except mint to your food processor and pulse until desired consistency. Top with mint.  Scoop and serve OR pour into a freezer-safe container to serve later.

Healthy Eating Tips for Vegetarians

Whether you’re curious about Meatless Mondays or wondering what plant-based eating is all about, you’re in the right place.

I get questions about plant-based nutrition all the time. Has your child has just declared that they’re vegan or did your doctor recommend you eat less meat or have you read about the health benefits?  Whatever your reason… I’ve got a sweet little handout for you!

Get your handout!

Download “Healthy Eating Tips for Vegetarians”

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