Sometimes I wonder how well my brain is working. In the past week, for instance, I ran a 5K wearing bad shoes in sub-zero weather, strapped on some old skates and tempted fate on a bumpy sheet of local lake ice, and spent two hours running up and down a basketball court.
I am, as I think I have mentioned, 61 years old.
What’s particularly odd, to me, is how much pleasure I derive from this stuff. And now I know why: When I exercise — even recklessly — something in my brain kicks in that tells me I’m having a great time and to keep doing what I’m doing.
That something — or those somethings — according to a new study by researchers at the University of Bordeaux in France, are lipid molecules called endocannabinoids. And, yes, if you guessed that this has something to do with the active ingredient in a certain recreational substance, you would be correct. But even if, like Bill Clinton, you never inhaled, these endocannabinoids are hardwired in your brain and they spring into action whenever you do. But here’s the catch: Only those of us whose brains are carrying a high-functioning CB1 cannabinoid receptor feel those good vibes. And it’s a big reason why some folks just never take to exercising.
“The inability to experience pleasure during physical activity, which is often quoted as one explanation why people partially or completely drop out of physical exercise programs, is a clear sign that the biology of the nervous system is involved,” lead researcher Francis Chaouloff said in a statement released by the university.
If I knew how to improve your cannabinoid receptivity (and I’m pretty certain a little more ganja will not do the trick), I’d certainly clue you in. But I’m afraid I don’t, and Monsieur Chaouloff is not letting on either. My best guess is that the more you exercise, the better it will eventually feel. At least that’s what my brain is telling me.