Mar 23, 2014

Why dancing makes you happy? Endorphin release is not the whole story.

Do you know the true relationship between exercising (dancing) at a regular basis and the feeling of happiness and wellness it gives you?

I am sure that you already now by memory the typical answer people give to that question: "When exercising your body releases endorphins giving you a feeling of well-being and euphoria". It sounds pretty logical... right? However, there is so MUCH MORE to understand behind the relationship of exercising and feeling happy. 
1) Release of BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor)
When you start exercising, your heart beat increases and so does your breathing. Your brain identifies this moment as "stress", or the so called "Fight or Flight" state. Your body believes you are in stress and will give you the energy you need to either "fight your enemy" or "fly away" from the source of stress. The protein BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) is then released. BDNF acts as a protector from stress, repairs memory neurons and acts as a reset button. Wonder now why you feel like you get a second start of the day after dancing or exercising? This is why after exercising your ideas will feel clearer  and you will feel at ease.

2) Release of Endorphins 
Endorphins: Biochemical substances distributed throughout your nervous system that interact with your opiate receptors reducing the perception of pain. Therefore, endorphins have an analgesic effect.

Given that your brain has recognized the start of your workout as a moment of stress, it will induce the release of endorphins in order to minimize the discomfort of exercising. That is why eventually during your workout you stop feeling pain. The release of endorphins also activates the neurons in the VTA (Ventral Tegmental Area) in your brain which release the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine causes you to experience pleasure and the feeling of euphoria.

Endorphins are morphine-like compounds and, although they are not addictive in most people, over time you may need to exercise more in order to achieve the same type of well-being feeling and euphoria. 

3) Runner's High
About 5-10% of people who do intense aerobic exercises get to experience the type of euphoria called "runner's high". In their case, exercising intensively results in the release of endocannabinoids (brain's natural cannabis-like molecules) too. Endocannabinoids and endorphins both activate the neurons in the VTA, releasing dopamine and making you feel euphoria. 

When VTA dopamine neurons are repeatedly activated by the same activity (or substance), some risk of addiction is observed. However, about only 3% of people truly experience genuine exercise addiction (*note that addiction means needing more over time in order to feel the same pleasure AND that when the activity or substance consumption stops, symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia appear.)

Now you understand better why dancing (exercising in general) at a regular basis makes you feel so happy. When doing any type of physical activity your brain is definitely more active as can be appreciated in the picture above.
In conclusion?...  CONTINUE EXERCISING!

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