Endorphins have become a “buzzword” for health and wellbeing, and for good reason. But whether most people really understand the benefits of endorphins and the role they play in our life is another matter.
The word “endorphin” is a combination of the words endogenous and morphine. Endogenous means within or inside the body, and morphine is an opiate pain reliever. This makes sense because endorphins act as natural painkillers.
There are of course, other purposes for the release of endorphins in our bodies, though not all of them are completely understood.
Not only do we get a surge of endorphins in response to pain, but they are also released during pleasurable activities, like sexual intercourse, eating, and exercise endorphins. Engaging in these activities can serve as a type of reward signal that encourages us to continue doing them more often because they make us feel good.
Of course, this can also mean doing healthy activities, or not so healthy ones, depending on the scenario.
What are Endorphins?
Endorphins are a large group of peptides that are produced by both the central nervous system and our pituitary glands.
When endorphins from exercise or other activities are released into the body, it’s our opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system that respond. In turn, the release of endorphins reduces pain and provides a sense of pleasure or wellbeing.
This chemical process is no different from prescription painkillers or illicit opioids like heroin that dampen the sense of pain and make a person feel relaxed or euphoric. It’s important to point out that our body’s natural release of endorphins can be just as pronounced as it is with drugs.
Again, this is why endorphins are so powerful.
In the case of substance abuse, the flood of endorphins leading to a euphoric “high” drives addictive behavior. And once a person’s tolerance begins to escalate, meaning they need more of a drug to achieve the same effects, a dangerous cycle begins taking hold.
Yet, the same is true of healthy behaviors, like exercise, eating healthy, sexual intercourse, spending time with family and friends, or achieving goals. All of these activities also release endorphins and reinforce a rewarding lifestyle.
For those in recovery from opioid or heroin addiction, learning how to naturally release endorphins can serve as a substitute for using drugs to achieve the same effect, and possibly help with relapse prevention.
What are the Benefits of Endorphins?
There is a virtual laundry list of benefits of endorphins, and maintaining healthy levels of them in our bodies. These go beyond simple feelings of pleasure and pain reduction.
The benefits from the release of endorphins can include some of the following:
- Improve the ability to get restful, restorative sleep
- Reduce the symptoms of chronic stress or anxiety
- Alleviate the symptoms of depression
- Regulate appetite to assist people in managing their weight
- During childbirth, research has shown endorphin levels increase as a way to decrease pain
- A healthy self-image is related to endorphins because feeling good provides people with a positive perspective of their inner self and self-esteem
It’s a pretty easy jump to see how low levels of endorphins can lead to unhealthy problems like sleep issues, depression, anxiety, aches and pains in the body, and even addiction.
Unfortunately, many people use drugs to synthetically chase the effects when they could naturally receive the benefits of endorphins from exercise or other healthy activities.
Understanding how to release endorphins in a natural way is an excellent first step in creating a healthy feedback loop that continues to reap benefits.
Natural Ways to Increase Endorphins
In truth, learning how to increase endorphins naturally is pretty straightforward, but because we’re human, it’s not something that’s top of mind for most people.
The easiest approach to release endorphins is to surround yourself with people you love, do activities you enjoy, and try to avoid things that ultimately deplete stores of them, such as too much alcohol consumption or substance abuse in general.
While this might sound incredibly simple, we all know someone who feels trapped in a stressful work situation or a troubled relationship. He or she may feel that there’s never enough time to exercise, take walks, cook healthy meals, or enjoy a night at the movies.
So, it may take a little focus and attention to naturally boost endorphin levels by making plans to regularly engage in activities that release them.
Here are 6 ways to increase endorphins naturally:
1. Endorphins and Exercise
Endorphins and exercise are a natural fit and one of the best ways to feel the positive effects. Regularly exercising, even if it’s only a brisk 30-minute walk every day will do the trick.
More vigorous exercise is beneficial too, though make it a point not to overexert yourself in the beginning to avoid risking an injury that could lead to long downtimes.
2. Eat Healthy Foods
Make simple, healthy meals several times a week and set aside one or maybe two days where you allow yourself a chance to “cheat” with something extra delicious.
Spicy food, nuts, ginseng, oranges, and even dark chocolate can all help to increase endorphins.
3. Spend Time With Other People
Spending time in-person with people you really enjoy or love, like friends, family, siblings, or parents is easy and meaningful, even when it’s just a short, regular visit.
If meeting in-person is difficult, video-calls can be a great replacement when we actually see our loved ones smile back at us.
4. Do Enjoyable Things
Do things you enjoy by yourself, like getting a massage, binging on a television series, or reading a book to practice self care and receive a mood boost from endorphins.
Doing things with others, such as going to the movies, finding a new and exciting restaurant to eat at, volunteering, or going to the beach can all spark joy and result in feeling good too.
5. Have Sex
If it feels safe and healthy, having sex releases endorphins that will elevate our mood, self-esteem, and even deepen a relationship with our partner.
Find time to meditate regularly, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes at a time. There are many benefits to clearing our minds and staying purposely mindful for whatever amount of time we can effectively manage.
There’s no way to avoid the difficulties that life might inevitably lead to, and it’s unrealistic to think we will never be sad, experience loss, or struggle with anxiety and depression. These are all part and parcel of being human.
However, understanding the benefits of endorphins and regularly maintaining a healthy lifestyle to increase the release of them can help us regulate our emotions and bounce back from some of the inescapable challenges that come our way.