3 Visual Experiences That Can Improve Your Health
Your eyes have more of an impact on your overall health than you might realize. And I’m not talking about getting your eyes checked by an optometrist regularly, using protective eyewear when you’re out in the sun and eating certain foods for good eye health (although those are all great ideas and things you should be doing anyway).
I’m talking about the positive changes in your mental state and those feel-good hormones that are released when you spend some time looking at something you find aesthetically pleasing. Call it scientifically proven “eye candy” if you will.
I’ve written previously about all the ways that music can help you get more done, but now it’s time to explore the health benefits of a whole new sense by opening your eyes to at least three different types of visual experiences.
1. Looking at art activates your brain’s reward system.
When was the last time you visited a museum or an art show? According to a study from Emory University School of Medicine, participants who viewed paintings by famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and other inspiring artists, experienced stronger responses from the reward-wired ventral striatum part of their brains compared to when they simply viewed photos of similar subjects.
Each participant’s brain was scanned to track its response as they viewed the works of art or the photos. In addition to seeing a response from the ventral striatum, the researchers also found that the artworks triggered the amygdala (associated with emotion), the orbitofrontal cortex (associated with aesthetic pleasure, risk-taking and impulse control) and even the hypothalamus (associated with body temperature and appetite).
2. Watching fish in aquariums can improve your blood pressure and heart health.
It turns out that underwater life may be just as soothing and calming as getting outdoors in a park or wooded area with lots of green space. With help from the National Marine Aquarium, researchers from Plymouth University and the University of Exeter found that people’s physical and mental states experienced positive changes after they spent some time watching fish swim around in their aquariums, which included reductions in both blood pressure levels and heart rate.
The researchers also measured people’s moods and discovered that a higher number of fish not only led to improved mood levels, but also helped keep people’s attention focused for longer. This study was the first of its kind to determine whether underwater settings may be just as good for you as spending time in natural environments.
3. Gazing into your dog’s eyes helps releases the “love hormone” in both of you.
If you’ve ever stared longingly into your beloved pooch’s eyes and wondered if he (or she) loves you just as much as you love him (or her), then you’ll be glad to know that science has come close to answering that question with a yes. A study that looked at the bonding between dogs and their owners found that both experienced a surge in oxytocin—the same bonding hormone that’s released in new mothers and their infants—when they gazed into each other’s eyes.
Interestingly enough, the same experiment done with wolves instead of dogs found no such evidence of the oxytocin loop—even with wolves that had been raised by humans. It suggests that both humans and dogs evolved alongside one another to develop that special interspecies bond that’s unique to only them.
Of course, it shouldn’t go without saying that gazing at anything you find beautiful is probably good for you—whether it’s your children, a nearby garden, the sunset, your favorite color or anything else. After all, we’re very visual creatures that can be deeply moved by beauty in almost any way it may be soaked in by looking at it.
Photo Credit: Liebre.De.Marzo