, Gloucester, MA

March 29, 2013

On the Mend: The physical toll of lying

On the Mend
Joe DiVincenzo

---- — We do it every day — whether deliberate or in passing.

For some, it’s as automated a response as going to the bathroom after you wake in the morning, but for others it can be as complex and difficult as composing a symphony. From the proclaimed self-righteous to holy men and everyone in between, we all tell lies.

Why do we lie? It’s an interesting question — a question that’s been around since the inception of verbal communication between humans.

The legendary neurologist Sigmund Freud concluded that all human actions are attempts to acquire love. While that statement is hotly debated, you can be certain at one point a caveman made a conscious decision to tell his wife her hair looked nice that morning.

It’s widely accepted that lies serve endless purposes. It would be hard to find a person who couldn’t acknowledge the utility of a little white lie. But while they act as functional tools to keep life going on an even keel, they definitely come at a price.

So, before you tell your next lie, think about what it does to your body — you might be better off with the truth.

Stress releases cortisol — a hormone that’s useful in bolstering your fight or flight nervous system but can also have a catastrophic effect on your body if released frequently or for prolonged times. Cortisol is linked to high concentrations of belly fat, stress and heart attacks to name a few items on a long list of the health woes of a liar.

Jiminy Cricket wouldn’t approve — after all, he is your conscience and would hate to see you to fall victim to the Pinocchio Effect which refers to the sudden and measurable erratic physical behaviors demonstrated by someone who is lying.

In his interview where he denied having relations with Monica Lewinski, President Clinton leaned forward 100 percent more, drank 355 percent more water, swallowed 250 percent more, looked away more than 200 percent, made 1,755 percent more speech errors and stuttered 1,444 percent more than the usual, smooth-talking leader we elected.

Apparently the old cliché of sleeping soundly at night based on how you live your life has some medical value. Lying activates the same part of the brain responsible for the creation of nightmares and disrupted sleep cycles. Even small, white lies can be a major deterrent to a peaceful rest. So if you want to sleep better at night, try telling the truth during the day.

Lying causes anxiety, depression and stress — three major life-changing emotions responsible for more personal and relationship problems than almost anything else. Will the lie be discovered? What’s my back-up lie? How will I get myself out of the next situation? In general, the stress of a lie is rarely worth the added value of a lie that goes undetected.

Lying releases various stress hormones that in turn weaken your immune system, making you critically more susceptible to colds and sore throats. On the average, liars are sick far more frequently and complain of more health issues than honest people according to a recent 2012 publication from the psychology department of Notre Dame.

So, tell the truth – you’ll live longer and sleep better in those extra years.

Contrary what you may have been told by Jack Nicholson, most of us can handle the truth – we do it every day, and happily so.

Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to