SCORE A QUICK RUSH: THE CONNECTION BETWEEN DANCING AND DOPAMINE
It might sound a little silly, but a few minutes of dancing can reset your neurotransmitters and propel you through the mid-afternoon slump!
Let’s face it, sitting at your desk all day long can be mentally taxing. After four hours or so, you’re SO ready for your lunch break… which usually takes place sitting at a table.
It’s a shame that we spend so much of our workdays stationary, especially since physical activity generates neurotransmitters, chemicals that help regulate mood and motivation—including dopamine.
Dopamine is known as the pleasure chemical, but it does way more than make you feel good. It also controls feelings of reward and motivation, which are kind of important for getting sh*t done!
When you exercise, the nucleus accumbens (Nac) region of the brain begins producing more dopamine.
If you’re not moving around and helping your body make dopamine, it’s no wonder that you start slumping around the halfway mark of your workday.
So instead of sitting right down and unwrapping that chickpea salad sandwich, how about you take five minutes to get your body moving and your heart pounding? The connection between dancing and dopamine is real, and the resulting rush can give you a second wind and make the rest of your day better!
Dancing isn’t a work-only strategy. Bust a quick move at home (or your home office, if you’re living the WFH life) or anywhere that you need to feel energized and motivated fast!
Dancing and dopamine: What happens in your brain when you move your booty
You know you feel better, more energized, and more focused after a quick dance sesh, but do you know why dancing and dopamine make you feel that way?
Three big processes happen in the brain when we dance:
#1: Dancing gives your brain a reward-center double play
Listening to music and exercise both trigger dopamine production. Combining music and synchronized movement—which is a fancy way to say dancing—stimulates the reward center and sensory-motor circuits all at once. Those systems are all involved in making dopamine!
Thus, Columbia University neurologist John Krakauer wrote that “may constitute a pleasure double play.” He continued that since evidence “indicates that humans like [watching] others in motion (and being in motion themselves,) adding music to the mix may be the pinnacle of reward.”
What does that mean for you? It means when you dance, you experience a complex interaction between your reward center, your sensory-motor center (which is activated during dancing), and increasing dopamine levels.
It’s important to note that we don’t know everything about how dancing interacts with the brain, but reported benefits of this reward-center double-whammy include:
- Increased calm
- Elevated mood
- A sense of fulfillment
- A feeling of control
#2: It’s not just dancing and dopamine that have a love affair—other chemicals get a boost
Dancing can be intensive exercise, which is known to boost certain neurotransmitters alongside dopamine. Those include:
- Norepinephrine,which regulatesmood and concentration
- Serotonin,which is known as “the happy chemical” that affects well-being
#3: The brain develops new connections from dance
When you dance, your brain develops new neural connections, which boost areas like executive function, long-term memory, and spatial recognition. All of these skills are great things to renew after a quick break from what’s keeping you at your desk!
Moving your ass activates brain regions that include:
- The motor cortex, which helps you plan and execute movement
- The somatosensory cortex,which assists with hand-eye coordination and motor control
- The basal ganglia,which coordinates movement
- The cerebellum,which helps with complex motor activity and puts together messages from the brain and spinal cord
When your mind uses many regions at once during a complex activity like dance—involving both physical and mental exercise—the connections between those regions become stronger. That leads to benefits beyond the dopamine rush!
You can have two left feet and still get a boost from dancing and dopamine
If the science convinces you, but you're fretting because you don't exactly, uh, dance, let’s set something straight. You absolutely don’t have to be good at it to benefit from getting your groove on! Don’t worry about being perfect; just get your heart rate up and be open to trying something new and fun!
Have no idea where to start? A few great ways for beginners to get moving include:
- Online dance classeslikeSteezy.co, which lets beginners (and amateurs of all levels) explore styles like house, hip hop, popping, and K-pop taught by pro choreographers at your own speed.
- YouTube,where there arecountlesschannels to learn anything from a 3-minute routine to the foundations of an entire style—just search “beginner’s full dance class” and be prepared to explore!
- The Just Dance video game franchiseis designed forcompletebeginners (it even has a Kids Mode!). It includesJust Dance Now(the smartphone version that streams to a smart TV, computer, or tablet) and yearly Just Dance releases for major consoles.
Find your movement muse with Sunday Scaries
Do you really want to get the benefits of dancing and dopamine, but you’re too tired, unfocused, or stressed?
The way you feel is totally understandable… but it's five minutes of effort in exchange for a boost that could help you get through the rest of the day, feeling way better than you do now.
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