The human body releases endorphins for pain relief. They are not addictive but are powerful -- in fact, Road to Health reports that endorphins are anywhere from 18 to 500 times as powerful as painkillers made in a lab. The body releases endorphins during periods of physical activity, resulting in feelings of well-being and sometimes, euphoria. While nearly any kind of physical activity has the potential to release endorphins, dancing is particularly effective.
As physical activity increases, the brain releases special chemicals that enhance feelings of well-being. According to Psychology Today, researchers have long known that physical activity enhances mood; however, the magazine reported the results of one recent University of London study that tested this theory against anxiety-sufferers who were enrolled in one of four settings. The settings included a dance class, a music class, a math class and an exercise class. Only the patients from the dance class reported "significantly reduced anxiety."
Dancing vs. Exercise
Another study found that students who enrolled in a waltzing class not only improved health, they wound up happier than those who participated in treadmill and bicycle training because of the body's endorphin release. In addition, because dancing to music bonds people together, it helps create an emotional high that isn't similarly produced in other athletic activities. As a result, even though dancing to music may not provide the calorie burn that running or cycling does, studies show that it may release more endorphins than both.
Getting in the Groove
Psychology Today recommends leaving your inhibitions at the door and focusing on having fun rather than harboring potentially unrealistic expectations concerning ability. It doesn't matter what style of dance you choose -- from ballet to ballroom to country-western, they all work. Focus on creative expression and avoid self-concious or critical feelings. If you want to balance endorphin release with a maximized calorie burn, choose higher-intensity latin or jazz dance classes, which each burn about 422 calories per hour in the average 155-pound person; the same person burns roughly 317 calories while ballet and tap dancing, and 387 calories while fast ballroom dancing.
Using Endorphins Positively
The release of endorphins is just one reason that medical professionals recommend exercise as a way to improve lifestyle while increasing overall fitness. Although dance is an effective mood booster, a variety of activities can improve mental outlook; running, good sex, eating spicy food or chocolate, meditation, childbirth, acupuncture and massage all boost endorphin production and result in long-lasting good feelings. Finally, don't underestimate the power of music. According to Road to Health, listening -- and dancing -- to music you love enhances endorphin production every day.
Lisa Bigelow is an independent writer with prior professional experience in the finance and fitness industries. She also writes a well-regarded political commentary column published in Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester counties in the New York City metro area.