Analysis Confirms: Smiling Improves Mileage
During my years as a track coach in high school, I kept trying to get athletes to relax while running. Too often runners are way too tense while running. This can be the entire face, shoulders, or any other part of the body.
My favorite trick to helping young runners relax was to have them do a “duck pass” with two pringles and try to run without smashing the chips. This forces you not to clench your teeth or clench your jaw.
How smiling affects attitudes
Science has shown that the very fact that you put a smile on your face has a positive impact on your body, both physically and psychologically. Smiles produce neuropeptides, and these little guys get to work right away to ward off stress. In addition, neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins also work.
In case you are not familiar with the terms, serotonin is a natural antidepressant. When dopamine is released it creates a feeling of joy and happiness. After all, endorphins work as pain relievers. All of these things can work together to make you happier!
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Indeed, there are studies that suggest that smiling lowers stress and blood pressure. Even faking a smile seems to have positive effects on the body. Is not that incredible?
Eliud Kipchoge has a wonderful quote on the subject. "When you smile and are happy, you can make the mind not feel your legs." What a wonderful way to look at it.
As you know, there are many aspects of running that are entirely mental. When you can get to grips with the mental aspects, the physical is sometimes easier to handle.
What the research says
There is research suggesting smiling as a way to decrease your perceived exertion during a particular run or other workout. In a small research sample done by writers for CNN, they had 24 athletes they referred to as club-level runners perform some tasks. The runners were instructed to run 4 times for 6-minute blocks, with a 2:00 minute break between each block.
The runners were tracked and monitored for various things as they ran. One point they reported was the perceived exertion. Runners said they found the run easier when asked to smile.
But let's go one step further. The runners were also 2.8% more frugal when smiling than when frowning. So they not only perceived their course, they are real data! The proof is in the distance you can travel in any amount of time folks.
Physical Benefits of Smiling During Exercise
Researchers in a study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise took 24 runners and had them wear breathing masks to measure oxygen consumption. The study found that when they ran with a smile, they used less oxygen, ran more economically, and also felt that running was easier.
Can you fake it
We have all been in these social situations where you fake smiling for all you have. Law? So here is the million dollar question. Can you fake the smile and still enjoy the benefits?
While studies suggest that a real smile has greater benefit for someone who exercises, a fake smile has measurable performance-enhancing power. So in a word, yes, you can fake it.
Neutral face vs. frown
Okay, maybe you don't feel like smiling. Can you keep your face neutral? Does an actual frown have a negative impact on performance while a neutral face doesn't?
Contracting the muscles of the face into a frown has a measurable impact on most people's heart rate. So when you frown, you are actually sending signals to your body that you are in need … even when you are not.
Keeping your face "neutral" can be harder than it sounds. Sure, you don't necessarily look unhappy or frown, but it helps to tilt the edges of your mouth up slightly.
Elite athletes smile!
Eliud Kipchoge is known for his speed in marathons. Secondly? Anyone who knows about elite runners and the marathon can say that Kipchoge is always smiling. Yes, even when it is running!
Although his pace of setting courses and world records is obviously exhausting, this elite recognize the power of a smile. He has repeatedly told reporters that he is smiling to help himself overcome pain and discomfort. That's true. He knows that smiling benefits you both mentally and physically.
It's not just for men and not just for runners. The Swiss triathlete Natascha Badmann is famous for her million dollar smile, even if she takes part in what is perhaps the toughest of all competitions.
Badmann made history when she became the first European woman to win an Ironman World Championship and then did so five more times. If you are looking for photos of Badmann, you will not get around pictures of her smiling as she runs. She knew what many did not know: the smile is a secret weapon.
What about us average Joe? (Or Jane!)
It's fascinating to think about. Some of my fastest runs are when I'm with a group of friends. Sometimes I realize it's because I run faster with people than I do. They help "pull" me at a faster time. But maybe there is something about the smile logic.
Maybe, just maybe, the company of people who make you smile helps us keep a pace that we normally don't run alone?
One thing I know for sure is that the next time I work with the girls on the track, I plan to smile over it. Have you ever done a Nike Run Club workout? The coaches are famous for their speed work interval runs for throwing in celebration pace intervals reminding us to "smile and have fun".
I think these coaches are up to something!