Joy, love, friendship benefit brain health

As you read the title of this article you may think “don’t we know that already?” We all get positive feelings from joyful activities, falling in love and spending time with friends. In addition to those positive feelings, these three actions have actual, measurable health benefits for brain function. Adding or increasing activities that bring more joy, love and friendship into your monthly schedule can start to improve your brain function.

Brains function and communicate by way of a great number of chemicals present in our bodies including neurotransmitters and hormones. They are sometimes referred to as our “brain chemistry.” When the majority of those body-produced chemicals are in correct balance we are feeling well. If some of these chemicals are not in proper balance we feel less than healthy or somewhat unbalanced. It is encouraging to know that there are many things we can chose to do that can promote healthy brain chemistry!

What brings you joy? Do you enjoy laughing at comedy, practicing a sport with your child, playing catch with your dog or singing along to a great song while you commute? The old saying “laughter is the best medicine” now has a lot of research proving that laughter reduces the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins, chemicals that improve our mood. Neurologists’ studies have proved that activities like caring for a pet or singing to upbeat music can reduce cortisol and release endorphins.

Physical movement which increases heart rate is like “a fountain of youth to the brain” states Dr. Marie Pasinski, neurologist and faculty member of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Pasinski was making reference to an increased flow of oxygen rich blood to the brain during play, exercise or sports.

As John Lennon suggested in the Beatles hit, “all you need is love.” Being in love has positive health benefits to the brain that can be measured. Research done by Arthur Aron at SUNY Stony Brook, using MRI scanning, found that when people viewed a photo of a loved one the area of their brains which release dopamine were lit up! Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that promotes positive feelings, helps energize and improves concentration. Many believe dopamine is a key brain chemical needed for motivation. So whether it’s spending time with your Valentine, watching your dream Valentine acting in a movie or some quality time with loved ones, it will give your brain increased dopamine!

Friendship benefits our lives in countless ways. So it is no surprise that friendship helps our brains stay healthy. Studies in sociology demonstrate how having positive friends help keep the physical body and brain healthier. Some of these studies indicate that the larger the number of friends, the happier a person reported feeling over a time period of years. Other studies show how the positive influences a friend can provide are beneficial to life long health. 

In our Compeer Program we strive to help people move away from depression and increase their joy and happiness. To be happy every human needs to add healthy activities and healthy people into his or her life. Try to think about how your brain chemistry affects your life and your health.

Denise Ayres

The Compeer Program

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 11:00 AM, 02.07.2012