If you're feeling stressed, maybe the best thing you can do is crack a smile.
New research shows that smiling -- and especially genuine smiling (where your eyes and mouth muscles are engaged) -- may play a part in lowering heart rate after you've done something stressful. The study will be published in the journal Psychological Science.
"The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment," study researcher Sarah Pressman, of the University of Kansas, said in a statement. "Not only will it help you 'grin and bear it' psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!"
The study included 169 university students who were first trained to hold chopsticks with their mouths (the chopsticks forced them to smile). The researchers trained them to either smile in a standard fashion (where just the mouth is in a smile, but no other facial muscles are being used), a Duchenne smile (where the mouth and eye muscles are used, apparent in a "genuine" smile), or a neutral expression.
Then, the researchers had the study participants continue to have the chopsticks in their mouths as they did a series of stressful tasks, such as putting their hands in ice water.
The researchers found that those who were trained to smile -- and especially those who were trained to smile the Duchenne way -- had a lower heart rate after the activities.
And while you're at it, maybe you should laugh some, too. Research shows that laughing has a myriad of health benefits, from lowering stress to easing pain to boosting your immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Plus, a study from researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that people with heart disease are less likely to laugh than people without the condition -- thereby suggesting there could be a link between laughing and heart health.
"We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease," Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at UMMC, said in a statement. "Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list."
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