Smiling can impact your running

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Training your facial muscles can affect your results

Last year, Eliud Kipchoge ran 26.2 miles in just two hours and 25 seconds in Monza, Italy, as part of Nike’s Breaking2 Project. His time, although not record-eligible, is the fastest marathon time ever recorded, and the effort required to clock it was undoubtedly grueling. Yet Kipchoge never let it show on his face. In fact, it appeared as if he was actually grinning at times. He later told reporters that he was smiling in order to relax and work through the pain. While it may seem silly, science backs up the fact that smiling does have an effect on our performance.

Smile to run further

Studies have shown that when we enrich our workout with a smile, we feel that the effort we put out is far less than the effort we exert when we frown while exercising. But no research had seriously looked into the effects of manipulating our facial expressions by smiling or frowning on our running economy until now. Researchers at Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales asked a group of 24 runners to wear a breathing mask to measure oxygen consumption and then complete four six-minute running blocks on a treadmill while smiling and while frowning. The study found that runners who smiled used less oxygen, ran more economically, and had a lowered perceived rate of exertion than those who frowned and those in the control group.

“They were 2.8 percent more economical when smiling than when frowning,” says Noel Brick, Ph. D., lecturer in sport and exercise physiology at the University of Ulster and coauthor of the study. The reason has to do with facial feedback. This little trick becomes especially useful for runners who need to conserve energy over the course of a long-distance run. When talking marathon distance, you can easily shave 5 minutes off your finish time just by smiling. And that smile doesn’t even have to be genuine. Fake it till you make it!

Throw your brain an endorphins party

A smile instantly boosts positivity, relaxes the body, and in turn, makes you more self-aware. When it comes to running, mentality and self-awareness will take you a long way – literally. In the end, mustering up a smile even when you don’t feel like it is just a matter of training, like any other habit. Besides, there’s not much to lose by giving grinning a shot. If nothing else, at least you’ll end up with better race photos.

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