Understanding how to release endorphins and what they do can lead to greater overall health and wellness.
Often referred to as the body’s natural pain relievers, increasing endorphins naturally can play a major role in how we experience pleasure and pain, as well as supporting good mental health and improving mood and how we feel overall.
What are Endorphins?
Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter that belong to a group of protein chains known as peptides, and are released in the body during pleasurable experiences, such as exercise, sex, or getting a massage.
In addition, endorphins are released naturally in the body after a painful event, such as a physical injury to help manage pain.
The hypothalamus, an area deep inside the brain that regulates a number of important functions, like body temperature, hunger, thirst, sleep, and emotional wellbeing, is primarily responsible for releasing endorphins.
There are more than 20 different types of endorphins.
However, beta-endorphins are the most widely studied because they are more powerful than morphine in the body when it comes to managing pain.
What do Endorphins Do?
Simply put, endorphins are chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, that interact with opioid receptors in the body to help reduce pain and increase feelings of pleasure.
In physically stressful moments, nerves in the body send pain signals to the brain.
With the natural release of endorphins, these signals are blocked, essentially cutting off pain.
This helps people continue to function during physically stressful moments, whether that includes vigorous exercise or an accident involving an injury.
Additionally, higher levels of endorphins in the body are associated with lower levels of stress and a better self-image.
These feel-good neurotransmitters actually promote a healthier lifestyle by reinforcing activities that make people feel good. When we feel good, we continue to do more of the activity that made us feel that way.
Benefits of Releasing Endorphins
Research has shown that there are a significant number of benefits to releasing endorphins in the body.
Learning how to release endorphins can have some of the following benefits:
- Better able to manage stress and anxiety
- Decreases symptoms of depression
- Improves ability to manage or lose weight
- Lowers inflammation in the body
- Reduces aches and pains
- Promotes a stronger immune system
- Believed to be associated with improved memory and ability to concentrate
- Better overall mood and self-image
On the flip side, a lack of endorphins in the body may worsen mental health conditions, such as increasing a person’s risk for depression or anxiety.
It may also increase a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder that requires treatment.
These types of feel-good neurotransmitters play such a big role in promoting good health that it’s important to understand how to release endorphins naturally to make the most of their benefits.
Naturally releasing endorphins can also serve as an opioid alternative for chronic pain to avoid or reduce the use of prescription painkillers.
6 Ways to Release Endorphins to Reduce Pain and Improve Mood
The good news is that it’s not difficult to naturally boost endorphins. In fact, the more people work to release endorphins into the body, the more that positive behavior is reinforced with feelings of pleasure.
Here are 6 Ways to Release Endorphins Naturally
1. Exercise to Release Endorphins
As little as 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day can help boost endorphin levels. The kind of exercise a person can manage will vary depending on their physical abilities, but this is also likely to improve over time.
Moderate exercise can include activities like a gardening, a leisurely bike ride, or walking at a brisk pace. More intense forms of exercise may include strength training, high-intensity interval training, trail running, or sports activities, like basketball, soccer, surfing, and skiing.
The key is to find regular activities and exercise levels that are enjoyable, sustainable, and promote the release of endorphins.
Regular exercise is often recommended as a treatment approach for high functioning depression symptoms, stress, and anxiety.
Meditation, which is simply the practice of calming the mind and body, has been shown to activate the body’s nervous system and reduce symptoms of stress and depression.
It is thought that this practice releases endorphins in the body because those who regularly engage in mediation have a greater ability to manage and deal with pain in the body.
There are easily searchable techniques for meditation, but the practice involves deep breathing and an awareness of the body and mind, along with a comfortable place to sit. These sessions can be anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes long to be beneficial.
3. Listening to Music
It’s no mistake that putting on a much-loved album or song can actually change a person’s mood. Studies have shown that listening to music can release endorphins in the body and lead to a mild reduction of pain.
Additionally, listening to music during exercise may actually increase a person’s ability to push themselves further because of an endorphin-related reduction in body aches and discomfort.
Dancing to music combines the best of both worlds, by releasing endorphins, reducing pain, and improving mood.
With acupuncture, tiny needles are inserted into the skin in different areas of the body in order to stimulate the central nervous system, which release endorphins and boosts pain reduction.
Research has shown that acupuncture can be an effective way to treat pain, though why exactly this ancient Chinese medicine works is not fully understood.
5. Dark Chocolate
Small servings of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cocoa, is believed to release endorphins and cause feelings of pleasure.
Dark chocolate contains a compound called phenethylamine, along with small amounts of caffeine, both known to stimulate endorphin neurotransmitter activity.
6. Having Sex
Engaging in sexual activity is a great, natural way to release endorphins and other feel-good chemicals, like, oxytocin or the “love hormone,” into the body.
With sex, it’s the combination of pleasure and physical activity that helps boost endorphin release.
During sexual activity, the heart rate spikes, which helps increase a person’s stamina and can lead to lingering feelings of pleasure and an elevated mood.
Other Ways to Increase or Release Endorphins
Besides the most common ways to release endorphins listed above, pleasurable activities like the following can also be effective:
- Get outside in the sunlight
- Socialize with friends
- Laugh – watch a funny movie or go to a comedy club
- Eat spicy Food
- Warm bath or sauna
- Create art or visit an art museum
- Watch a drama TV show or movie