The key to longevity – is smiling you in the face!!

3 November 2020 By Guest Writer Dr Sarah Hattam

The key to longevity – is smiling you in the face!! image

George Orwell famously wrote: “At 50, everyone has the face he (or she) deserves”.

That may be, but 50 could be the age to create the face you want! And in the process you can create energy for yourself, be seen as younger, be happier and even more successful.

How can you do all this? By smiling! Yes, as simple (and cheap) as that.

It can be all too apparent that our countenances reflect the combined effects of life experiences, environment and lifestyle as we advance through the decades. But what if we re-framed this idea and decided to celebrate those lines that appear year on year (as collagen diminishes) as lasting reminders of happy memories and moments of laughter that we have enjoyed over the years?

The science of the smile demonstrates some tangible positive benefits which counteract ageing. And yet, research shows that, as we get older, we smile much less frequently. So, whilst children might smile on average 400 times each and every day, we adults crack a smile only 15-20 times a day on average.

Many of us have a creeping awareness of “sarcopenia” – the gradual wasting of muscles from under-use as we get older and the call to “use them or lose them.” But there are two specific and under-rated muscles which deserve our attention as we age. You’ve likely never heard of them – the zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi muscles. I feel a tongue-twister coming on! These small facial muscles lift and narrow our eyelids and elevate the corners of our mouth. They create our smile. Our brain sees this muscle activity and activates a positive feedback loop which stimulates the reward centres in our brain.   Giving us a lovely hit of dopamine, serotonin and endorphin release. Which in turn creates a subjective feeling of happiness and wellbeing. But that’s not all… this neat neurochemical cascade also has physical effects to lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate and reduce anxiety.

But we’re social beings too, right? Wired for meaningful connection with others.   And, as Robert J Waldinger found in the Grant Study, the biggest determinant of happiness in our later years is the quality of our relationships. And surprise, surprise … smiling is also a social response which is more contagious than Covid-19! When we smile, those around us benefit too because of another small circuit of cells in our brain. These so-called mirror neurons are highly specialised cells which enable us to decode and make sense of the actions of others. So, when we smile at someone else, their mirror neurons fire up in response. And they feel happier too, creating a sense of shared empathy in the process.

So, it appears that one of the key ingredients for longevity and happiness, which translates into every language, could be staring you right in the face.

Next-Up included smiling as one of the 15 ways to avoid being a victim of ageism. Making a conscious effort to smile more – on Zoom, in meetings, over coffee – will all help your health and possibly help you achieve more of what you want.

Go on – smile! See how good you feel.

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Written by Guest Writer Dr Sarah Hattam

Medical doctor and founder of workplace wellbeing consultancy

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