Mother Theresa once said, "We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do." TBH, the woman was right: Smiling is powerful AF, and it's no joke when people say that it's literally contagious. But what's even cooler is that research is now exploring not only how smiling affects your body, but also how it can benefit your workout.
If you've ever pushed yourself through a super challenging workout, with sweat clouding your vision and your muscles begging for mercy, you've probably told yourself to "just grin and bear it" to make it to the end. Despite the cliche, it turns out you honestly may have been onto something. According to a new study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, there's an actual psychological effect that a cheeky grin can have on your performance in the gym, or even when you're competing in a sport.
The research, which was done at Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales, looked at 24 individuals — including both men and women — who were experienced recreational runners. The researchers asked them to complete four six-minute runs on a treadmill. For the first run, they were asked to genuinely smile the entire time. For the second, they were ordered to frown for the full six minutes. The third approach required the runners to simply relax their upper bodies, and the final approach had the runners follow their own normal, go-to techniques that they like to use when they run (that last approach served as the controlled part of the experiment).
Though the results were varied overall, smiling while running ultimately yielded the best workout results.
According to The New York Times, these results show that smiling helped the runners perform better by reducing tension in the muscles throughout their bodies. But there's a bit of a catch to these findings that we need to talk about.
The New York Times reports that, when the participants' smiling expressions started to become "unnatural" and strained (because, let's be real, it's pretty hard to hold a "natural" smile for a full six minutes), fewer facial muscles were active, unlike the genuine initial smiles, which led to more tension and less relaxation in their bodies.
So the bottom line is, if you're trying to improve the quality of your workout by plastering a smile on your face, you need to do so strategically. For example, maybe try listening to your favorite comedian when you're at the gym, so you can make sure any smiling you might do is actually sincere. If you try to force it, you'll probably just feel really uncomfortable and tense throughout your workout, which I'm assuming is not what you're aiming for.
Plus, the good news is that the benefits of smiling aren't just limited to easing the pain and discomfort of a challenging sweat sesh.
Studies have shown that something as simple as a casual grin could potentially help you live longer.
Research published in the journal Psychological Science suggested that smiling could be a way to prolong your life. Basically, the more intense and sincere your smile, the longer and more fulfilling your life may be.
If you're skeptical about the idea of simply turning up the corners of your mouth as a way to add a couple of years to your life, rest assured, there are loads of other positive health effects associated with smiling that are simply too good to ignore.
For instance, a good ol' grin releases loads of feel-good chemicals into your bloodstream, such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These bad boys are essential for a healthy heart, decreased stress and blood pressure, and they even act as mild, natural painkillers in your body.
So, the verdict's in my friends: When you're down in the dumps, low-key pissed off, or moving through a really challenging workout that you're about to give up on, turn that frown upside down.