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Health news to smile at

Here is a new LaterLife challenge – smile at a stranger next time you go down the road!

Yes, some may think you are crazy, but you might just be surprised how many complete strangers will smile back at you.

That is because smiling is contagious.

Various studies have shown that the automatic human response to a smile is to smile back. Swedish researchers have explained that the part of your brain responsible for smiling is in the cingulated cortex. Yes, quite! But evidently this is an unconscious automatic response area in our brain which means are responses come out automatically.

When someone smiles at us, our automatic response is to smile back. Their research involved asking people to frown when they saw a picture of someone smiling, and evidently they found that very hard to do.

Which is great news because not only is smiling easy, but it is also good for us. Evidently, according to the University of California (San Francisco); we have 19 different types of smiles from polite social smiles to deep sincere felt smiles. But whatever the category, smile away because a smile is good.

For a start, a simple smile activates the release of neuropeptides. These are tiny molecules that help neurons to chat to each other so your body can send happy or sad messages around your body. But a smile doesn’t only help these communication systems; they also release the feel good neurotransmitters of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin which of course are then transmitted well thanks to the neuropeptides.

But we don’t need to understand all these big medical terms to get the message! A smile releases “things” that help relax our bodies, help to lower our heart rates and even lower our blood pressure.

Then it seems we are actually much better looking when we smile, and people will treat us differently. A study by researchers at the Face Research Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen found both men and women were more attracted to images of people who smiled; and people who smile are viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere.

According to research published in the journal Neuropsychologia, seeing a smiling face activates the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain that processes sensory rewards. This suggests that when you see a person smiling, you yourself feel rewarded.

Wow, so we not only make ourselves feel better, but we really can help others feel better. How good is that!

If you have ever seen the HSBC adverts, showing different customs around the world, you will know that handshakes, hugs and bows all have varying meanings across different cultures. In some parts of the world, shaking your head means yes instead of no! But a smile is a universal demonstration of happiness and acceptance, whatever the culture.

Evidently people with normal eyesight can recognize a smile form 300 feet away, making it the most easily recognizable facial expression.

Finally, while some smiles can require us to use all our facial muscles, some small gentle smiles only require five muscle movements.

So even if you are feeling exhausted, you should be able to raise a smile….which will be good for all of us!

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