Sunday, January 29Hampton Roads Weekly


Can a smile a day help keep the doctor away? In the concern over the spread of Coronavirus, and the potential vulnerability of seniors, let us remember the strength of a smile, as backed by science.

We know the basics of a healthy immune system – eat fruits and veggies, drink water, rest, move our body, wash our hands, get some sunshine/Vitamin D, and keep stress low.

Our precious senior community, and those helping care for them, need extra common sense approaches to minimize spreading germs. But in the midst of concern, smiles can help contribute to excellent care.

Science proves the simple act of smiling lowers stress and boosts our immune system.

Neurologist Dr. Isha Gupta explains that a smile releases brain hormones. “Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Low levels of serotonin…dopamine are also associated with depression.”

Dr. Murray Grossan, ENT, cites psychoneuroimmunology (how the brain connects to the immune system) saying, “Smiling can make a difference in building your immunity. When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”

Researchers at the University of Kansas found that smiling also helps lower heart rates in tense situations and blood pressure, which can lead to longevity. According to British researchers, one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate, says Ron Gutman in his book  Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act.

Studies aside, there are plenty of smiling humans who can testify to the fact that looking happy helps them get through the day.

My family, including our five kids, have tried purposely adding 30 seconds of smiling to our morning routine to test this theory. In addition to making us laugh, we agree it changes the way we think, feel and interact. It can even help supercharge our mood and shift our perspective if something goes awry during the day.

Finally, a smile is something that is easy to pass on. Like yawning, it can be contagious. Try passing by a mirror and not smiling back at your smile 🙂

As a sidenote, it increases our capacity for empathy too, as our “mirror neurons” let us reflect the behavior we see in others, according to Dr. Eva Ritzo, psychiatrist and author. This helps us relax and focus  if we’re feeling down or anxious. All while helping keep our immune system strong.

If you are caring for a loved one, consider the words of author and professor Leo Buscaglia who wrote, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, and honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Despite all the panic we’re hearing, and the potential vulnerability of our senior community, let’s remember the words of author Mary Pettibone Poole’s aphorism, “He who laughs, lasts!”

We are glad to help you anytime and can be reached at (757) 679-2805.