By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Over the Christmas holidays last year, a fight broke out in my home. There were no fisticuffs, mind you, but the words exchanged were heated and hurtful. While this was going on in the dining room, I had a brain storm. Why don't I build a fire in the fireplace. So, while this one was pointing his finger in that one's face, I quietly went about the business of opening the flue, stacking the logs and building a right, tidy little fire. After putting the screen in place and standing back to admire my work for a minute of two, I then just went back into the kitchen to finish the prep for the sweet potatoes with the only other non-combatant, my dog Sandy.
About 15 minutes into this, I suddenly noticed that the racket and uproar that had been raging had died down. In fact, it was suddenly just a murmur of voices that sounded a lot like people had just given up on fighting. I peeked inside the living room to see what had brought about the detente and that's when I observed for the first time in my life the magical healing powers of a fire. Combatant Number One was busy readjusting logs that didn't need adjusting. Combatant Number Two was telling him to leave things alone, but in a sifter tone, and while he had his hands on one side of the hearth, leaning comfortably. The anger that had been so thick in the room had died down so much I could hear the whoosh sound as the logs were starting to heat up and be consumed. Now, they both were consumed by the joint project of tending the fire.
Watching a fire grow, whether in a campsite or in a chimney, holds a spell over us. Few of us can break away from watching a crackling fire.
Watching a Fire in the Fireplace Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Now, scientists have learned that watching a fire has an important health benefit. People who watch a fire experience a drop in blood pressure. We're talking here of course about campsite or fireplace fires; not wild fires that might threaten to burn a house down.
Scientists at the University of Alabama conducted a study in 2014 on the effects that watching a fire video has on blood pressure. The study was called " Hearth and campfire influences on arterial blood pressure: defraying the costs of the social brain through fireside relaxation".
The study was a study-of-studies, looking at 3 other studies which had examined the effects of fire watching on 226 people. The type of fire conditions in the 3 studies included fires with sounds, fires without sound and controls with no fire at all.
What did they find? Watching a fire with sound lowers your blood pressure by an average of 5%. This is a significant drop. If your blood pressure is 150, just watching a fire video could drop it down to 142.5. If your blood pressure is 140, watching the fire video could bring it down to 133. And if your blood pressure is 130, watching a fire video can bring it down to a very near ideal, 123.5.
Watching Fire without Sound Has No Effect
The participants in the studies who watched fires without any sound experienced no improvements in their blood pressure.
Why Fires Are So Mesmerizing
The University of Alabama scientists theorize that we humans love gathering around fires because they harken back to an important evolutionary development. Fires were built to extend the day into night. They allowed us to socialize together peacefully, to cook food and eat, and to survive together in warmth.
Watching fires even to this day awakens in us social harmony. Watching fires is actually hypnotic to many people, lulling us into trances of tranquility.
Don't Have a Fireplace? -Watch a Fire Video on Youtube
There are a large number of fireplace videos on youtube. You can choose, for example, to watch 2 hours of a crackling fire with piano music (classical, jazz, Christmas).
You can choose a fireplace video with or without crackling sounds.
You can choose a video of fires with mostly red logs or mostly orange or yellow fires.