Endorphins are chemicals produced naturally in the body that can help boost mood and relieve pain.
You know that rush you get after a long run? In that moment, your stress fades away and you feel happy, strong, and ready to take on the world. There’s a reason why they call it “the runner’s high.”
This feeling is the result of endorphins being released. Other activities such as eating dark chocolate, having sex, and even having a good laugh can trigger the release of endorphins.
But are there different types of endorphins based on when they’re released? Are the endorphins released after an exercise the same as the ones released after you eat a piece of chocolate? Let’s find out.
The term endorphin comes from the words “endogenous” (produced within the body) and “morphine” (an opiate pain reliever).
Produced by the
They act as neurotransmitters since they send messages to your brain, but they’re also considered hormones since they are released into the bloodstream and can produce physiological changes in parts of the body.
Endorphins play an active role in our body’s reward circuits. During activities — such as eating, drinking, exercising, and having sex — endorphins are released.
They’re also released during an injury or stress to help minimize feelings of pain and discomfort.
This explains why an injury usually feels worse hours later. When the injury happens, your body works hard to keep you safe and sends a surge of endorphins to protect you from experiencing the full extent of the pain.
Endorphins are also naturally released when a person is in labor to help manage the pain of childbirth.
While there are 20 different types of endorphins, the ones that are most frequently studied are known as
Two other endorphins that are often mentioned in
Although endorphins and dopamine are involved in the reward circuit of the brain, each one serves a different purpose.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are produced in one small region of the brain — the pituitary gland — and are released in specific situations that trigger intense pain.
Dopamine, on the other hand, is a neurotransmitter that’s found extensively in areas of the brain and serves multiple functions, such as boosting mood, motivation, and sustained attention. The release of dopamine is what motivates you to complete a task.
Imagine you’re running a race. Endorphins are the quick hit of pleasure you get during the race, whereas dopamine happens at the finish line. It stays in your system longer. Both work together to improve your overall well-being.
There’s a strong connection between endorphins and mental health. Endorphins are a key factor in maintaining a positive state of mind.
Along with the physical health benefits, there are several mental health benefits of endorphins.
They reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
As a natural mood booster, endorphins have an antidepressive effect.
“When endorphin levels are high, we feel happier, more energetic, and more optimistic,” says Dr. Natalie Bernstein, a psychologist and mental health coach in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“When they are low, we may feel sad, anxious, tired, and even depressed.”
They increase self-esteem
When endorphins are flowing, our mood is up and we’re feeling good. This has a positive ripple effect on our self-esteem.
“We have a more positive outlook on life and our relationships with ourselves and those around us improve,” Bernstein explains. “Simply put, we like ourselves and we play better with others.”
Want a quick way to boost your endorphins and your self-esteem? Get moving, Bernstein advises.
“Exercise is one of the quickest ways to boost endorphins,” Bernstein adds. “When we exercise, we feel more confident about our bodies, which increases self-esteem.”
They sharpen memory, mental acuity, and concentration
“Difficulty thinking or making decisions can be a common symptom of many mental health conditions such as trauma, depression, anxiety, and more,” says Joyce Marter, a licensed psychologist and author of “The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life” in Evanston, Illinois.
“Endorphins are a natural antidote to these symptoms, which can impact job performance and relationships or lead to accidents or injury,” says Marter.
Marter adds, “In my practice and training seminars, I love teaching mindfulness practices such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation because these are simple exercises that are free, don’t require a lot of time, and are empirically supported to increase endorphins.”
They improve sleep
According to Marter, “There’s a strong interconnection between sleep and mental health. Many mental health conditions can negatively impact sleep, and poor sleep can exacerbate mental health symptoms.”
She adds, “If you find it difficult to create time for exercise to increase endorphins, remember that other practices such as music therapy, art therapy, and aromatherapy also cause a rise in endorphins.”
“As this is a hormone that the body creates, there are natural ways to boost endorphin levels in the brain to manage stress, anxiety, or depression,” says Jason Drake, licensed clinical social worker and lead clinician and owner of Katy Teen & Family Counseling in Katy, Texas.
One of the more well-known ways to naturally boost endorphins is through regular aerobic exercise. It’s been found that exercise can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. One of the reasons exercise is so helpful is that it helps to produce endorphins.
“When a person engages in regular aerobic exercise like running, the brain produces endorphins to combat the strain that rigorous exercise has on the body,” Drake explains.
To increase endorphins, you can do any type of aerobic exercises — like biking, swimming, rowing, or other similar sports — that can help the brain produce more of this hormone.
Spicy foods have also been
“It has been theorized that spicy food activates pain receptors in the tongue, which can trigger the brain to release endorphins,” says Drake.
If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, dark chocolate has also been shown to release endorphins.
“Not just any dark chocolate will do,” Drake says. “Looking for dark chocolate that is 70% cocoa is what is needed. As most chocolates are high in sugar and fat, it’s important to use dark chocolate in moderation.”
Other activities that may help release endorphins include:
While there are over 20 different types of endorphins, only three have been studied or mentioned in research. So, not much is known about how all the different types function or their purpose.
But we do know that endorphins can help improve mood and ease pain.
The science of endorphins continues to evolve as researchers examine how they impact our overall well-being.
The good news is there are numerous ways to increase your endorphins naturally through activities such as exercise, laughing, and dancing — all of which are habits that improve your health.