How Movies Affect Your Body

by Derek Silvers on January 31, 2014

Did you know that movies influence your body as well as your mind? And not just because you’re sitting down for long periods of time. In fact, some of the influence is positive.

Comedies Lower Your Blood Pressure

A study by the University of Maryland found that laughing at comedic movies can dilate your blood vessels around 22 percent. This lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease in a way that’s comparable to real exercise.

Participants in the study were 20 non-smoking men and women with an average age of 33. They were randomly shown 15 minute clips of a stressful movie, in this case Saving Private Ryan, and a funny movie, Kingpin. Two days later, they were shown clips from the movie that they didn’t watch the first time.

The results showed that the effects on blood pressure lasted around 30 to 45 minutes. Saving Private Ryan ended up constricting blood vessels, even for people who had already seen the movie.

“The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium [the inner lining of blood vessels] is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise,” says Dr. Miller, the head of the study. “We don’t recommend that you laugh and not exercise, but we do recommend that you try to laugh on a regular basis. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system.”

Onscreen Bullying Can Make You More Aggressive

This is more of a mental thing, but it can still manifest physically. Though violent movies have never been shown to encourage violent acts, onscreen bullying can still activate the parts of your brain that cause real-world aggression, says research from Linfield College. This movie bullying doesn’t have to be violent, either. It can just be malicious gossip that causes social exclusion.

The study examined 250 college women for their cognitive behavior after viewing certain movie clips. The first clip depicted physical aggression in the form of a murder. The second portrayed relational aggression, such as girls spreading malicious gossip and kicking someone out of their social circle. The third was a “scary scene” to raise their heart rate.

The people who had watched either of the aggressive clips showed a delayed reaction when viewing aggressive words. To the researchers, this meant that the brain was doing more processing, or activating “aggressive scripts” in the brain. This makes aggressive action more likely, says head researcher Dr. Linder, but more research is needed to see if this is gender specific or not.

Horror Movies Cause an Adrenaline Rush Even after the Movie is Over

Obviously, a good horror movie causes an increase in heart rate and adrenaline. What many people don’t realize, though, is that this effect lingers after the movie is over, even if you can’t feel it.

Dr. Glenn Sparks, associate head of the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University, calls this the excitation transfer process. It means that unrelated positive emotions you feel after the movie, like laughing with your friends, are intensified. On the other hand, it also means that negative emotions are also intensified, so an argument will feel worse.

It also explains why some people like horror movies and some don’t. “Adrenaline junkies,” who make up ten percent of the population, will probably like them because horror movies affect the adrenal gland in the same way as a roller coaster or mountain climbing.

Read our article "This is Your Brain on Film" to see how movies affect your brain.

How do movies affect YOUR body? Leave a comment here or on Twitter!

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