The right aromas can make you stronger, healthier, and happier, new research shows. Learn how to sniff out your full wellness potential, from more energy to a flatter belly.
The Scent of Success
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Smell is the most influential sense you have. (It's way more important than you think.) Unlike sight, hearing, taste, or touch, your sense of smell has a direct effect on your brain and the programming of your emotions, memory, energy level, and even endurance, says Bryan Raudenbush, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University who has studied scent extensively.
The biggest surprise, though, as scientists are now discovering, is that smell doesn't just involve your nose. In fact, "more than half of your olfactory receptors are distributed throughout the body, including in the skin, muscles, gut, and lungs," says Hanns Hatt, Ph.D., a researcher from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. When exposed to the right aromas, these scent receptors can do amazing things, such as speed your recovery from injury or illness, improve your digestion, and even help you breathe more deeply. These are gains you definitely want to get in on—and these tips will show you how.
Photo: Claire Benoist
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Sniff peppermint for an instant edge in the gym. In Raudenbush's research, people who inhaled this scent before running on a treadmill said they felt like their jog finished faster; others were able to spend more time lifting weights. Peppermint aromas (cinnamon too) turn on a series of nerve pathways in the body called the reticular activating system (RAS), which regulates alertness. "That makes you more focused on what you're doing, distracts you from any discomfort so you can exercise longer, and stimulates your muscles to perform better," Raudenbush explains. Chewing cinnamon or peppermint gum or taking a few whiffs of either scent before your workout delivers that boost.
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After working out, inhale the sweet and restorative scent of jasmine. "The aroma quiets the body's RAS to help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, both of which become elevated when you exercise," says Raudenbush. That encourages your body's repair processes to kick in faster. (Here are other ways to recover from a workout.) Keep a bottle of jasmine essential oil in your gym bag and take a sniff, or lather up with jasmine-scented soap in the shower.
Curb Your Appetite
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Certain aroma compounds, such as those in olive oil, can help you feel full, scientists from the German Research Center for Food Chemistry report. In their study, they found that people who ate yogurt with an olive oil aroma added to it consumed 176 fewer calories a day than those who ate plain yogurt. The researchers believe that scent compounds in olive oil slow the absorption of glucose from the blood in liver cells, which makes you feel full for longer. Italian oils tend to be the most aromatic; try drizzling a small amount over your food before digging in—or simply take a sniff from the bottle before meals.
Look Younger and Healthier
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Your skin uses the scent of sandalwood to rejuvenate itself, says Hatt, whose team was the first to discover that skin cells contain olfactory receptors. When he and his researchers exposed those receptors to a synthetic sandalwood odor, new skin cells grew 30 percent faster than normal. He suggests applying lotion with sandalwood daily to prevent and treat skin irritation and for its antiaging benefits.
Photo: Cyrus McCrimmon/Getty Images
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Herbs like thyme and cloves may help flatten your belly. "Olfactory receptors in your gut cells respond to certain scents by dramatically increasing the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate digestion," says Hatt. Just inhaling them, however, may not be enough to do the trick, he adds. Instead, try drinking thyme tea or chewing on a few cloves whenever you feel bloated in order to keep your GI system running smoothly. (Here are other ways to incorporate herbs into your diet.)