“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” — Dale Carnegie
We naturally burn calories throughout the day, with our resting metabolism burning about 60% for sedentary individuals. And of course, exercise racks up the caloric burn along with the mundane things we do like eating and walking.
Which got us thinking: what’s the calorie burn when we’re laughing or crying till we physically ache? And do we burn any calories worth counting when we’re feeling incensed?
Laughter is the best medicine?
Turns out laughing 15 minutes a day (and not necessarily in one session) helps us burn between 10 to 40 calories — depending, we’re guessing, on how good the joke is. Laughing and exhilaration increase our heart rate by 10 to 20 percent as well as our metabolism so we’re burning a little more after the moment’s over. Laughing, of course, brings with it other help benefits including a reduction in our stress hormones. It also raises our beta-endorphins (which lower feelings of depression) and human growth hormone (which helps protect against disease and infection).
Interestingly, even the mere anticipation of laughter changes our body chemistry, like when we’re listening for a punchline or waiting for the commercials before a funny movie. Weirder still, our brains will apparently respond to laughter even if the laughter is faked!
A good cry
Crying apparently burns as much as laughing does, at about a rate of 1.3 calories a minute. Again we note the elevation of our heart rate and the metabolism after, though we’re not quite sure what the variance is between a gentle dab at the corner of the eye, or a good Ugly Cry; to date there haven’t been any studies conducted on the calorie count of a solid sob. If you find one, please shoot it our way!
The act of crying is both a natural response to a range of emotions and a self-soothing reflex. Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps people relax, as well as oxytocin and endorphins — hormones associated with pain relief and a sense of wellbeing. Crying even helps to kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme.
Of course too much of a good thing can be bad. Frequent crying “for no apparent reason” can be an indicator of depression, so be mindful.
All the rage
Anger is natural but it is often an emotion we try to avoid because it can be hard to manage when we are not intentional with our frustrations. Still, there are health benefits to acknowledging and managing our angry well. Anger often alerts us to a problem, crystalises our values and convictions, and even result in motivating us to change. Acknowledging and managing anger can lower stress on the heart and even manage pain. Conversely, pushing down anger has been tied to depression and anxiety as it can worsen the experience of pain and place stress on the cardiovascular system. Studies in three American universities have also shown that moral outrage decreases our appetite, which of course impacts our calorie count that way.
Left to simmer, however, and anger actually helps us gain weight, with stress lowering metabolism (particularly in women), so we lose out to the tune of 104 fewer calories on average. All other factors being equal, untended stress and anger could result in an unplanned weight gain of up to 11 pounds in a year. That’s not counting the lower fat oxidation and higher insulin levels, not to mention the cost to your mental health, of course.
In the grand scheme of things, emotions contribute little to the daily calorie count compared to sleep, for instance (a cool 500 calories after a solid 8 hours!) But they play a sizeable role in our overall wellbeing nonetheless.