Endorphins. You’ve heard of them. You know they’re good for you. You probably even know that high levels of endorphins can increase happiness and “Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands” – AmIright, all my Elle Woods fans? Come on, I can’t be the only one who thinks of that line when endorphins are mentioned!
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”
So, what exactly are endorphins, you may find yourself wondering..? And how do they impact our emotional state of well-being? Does exercise really increase endorphins? If that is the case, what else increases endorphins, or decreases them, for that matter. Let’s explore, shall we?
According to Merriam-Webster.com, endorphins are defined as: “any of a group of endogenous peptides (such as enkephalin) found especially in the brain that bind chiefly to opiate receptors and produce some pharmacological effects (such as pain relief) like those of opiates”.
In other words, they’re a hormone released in the brain that helps calm the body and can even promote pleasure, similar to how painkillers work. In fact, vocabulary.com states that “the word endorphin is a blend of “endogenous” (meaning “inside the body”) and “morphine” (a medication that relieves pain),” which is why endorphins are known as “natural painkillers.”
Endorphins also play a role in the central nervous system, as they are neurotransmitters, passing along signals from one neuron to another. It’s sorta like when you played telephone as a kid, and you had to pass along the message from one person to the next until it reached the last person, then they would state the message out loud. Usually it would be some tainted version of the original – giving everyone a good laugh and making the game super fun. Endorphins, on the other hand, pass along the correct message every time. There are no jumbled messages with endorphins – boring for the game, great for our bodies!
Now that we know what endorphins are, why then, are they good for you? Oh goodie, I was hoping you’d ask! Think of things that are pleasurable to you. Good food, perhaps? A delicious glass of wine. A relaxing massage, possibly? Or maybe its something more adventurous, such as a hike in the mountains, running on the beach or watching your favorite sports team score a point. Cue endorphins.
Endorphins tell us when something is good or pleasurable…like that glass of wine or a yummy piece of chocolate. They also let us know when we’ve had too much of a good thing and signal us to stop or slow down. It’s how we know we’re full, for example. On the other hand, since we know what is pleasurable to us, endorphins encourage us to pursue those things in order to feel that sense of pleasure again. Craving that second piece of chocolate? You can thank your endorphins.
In addition to eating chocolate, here are some other awesome benefits of endorphins:
Preventing depression -exercise, yes the so-called ‘runners high’ is a thing!, releases endorphins which have been linked to decrease levels of depression.
Confidence booster – positive vibes only! As positive feelings can make you feel better, they’re a great source of self esteem.
Childbirth – clearly, a stressful scenario for the body, endorphins kick in to help calm and alleviate some of the pain during labor.
By now, we all know that exercise is a great way to release endorphins, however, you gotta be willing to work for it! I’m talking full on heart pounding, beast mode, run for miles upon miles type of workouts. So, what if the ‘runners high’ isn’t your cup of tea? Running can just be … So. Much. Work. Aren’t there other ways of triggering endorphins? Well, lucky you, because the answer is yes!
A much more relaxing way to increase endorphins is by touch. More specifically, massage therapy. Ever wonder why massages feel so good? It’s your endorphins kicking in. When getting a massage, hormones are released within the body – endorphins included – allowing you to unwind, relax and let the sensation of pleasure sink in. Shoot – I’m feeling relaxed just thinking about it! ‘Runners high’ without the run? Count me in!
But what if I told you there is another way, somewhat similar to massage therapy, that’ll help you achieve endorphin bliss? Enter Reiki. Say what?!? Let me explain.
“Reiki is a gentle, non-invasive, spiritually-based, Japanese healing system for maintaining and restoring health and wellness of body, mind, and spirit”
- Elise Brenner, Reiki master teacher & owner of Brenner Reiki Healing
Reiki is part of the “Relaxation Response,” according to Harvard Medical School’s Herbert Benson. Similar to how massage therapy works, increased levels of blood flow are sent to the brain and therefore cause muscles and organs to slow down. In response, there is an upswing in release of endorphins. Or in other words: Pure bliss, my friends, pure bliss.
Still looking for other ways to increase those endorphin levels? Try the following:
– eat chocolate
– create music
– eat spicy foods
In closing, let’s recap, shall we? Endorphins are hormones in the body that respond to stress or pain by calming or relaxing the body. They’re also triggered by pleasure, letting us know when we enjoy something and when we’ve had our fill. They inspire us to chase after those pleasures in order to achieve the satisfactory feeling they first left us with. Endorphins give us a ‘natural high’ without the addiction caused by conventional drugs. Arguably the most widely known from their effects on runners, aka ‘runners high’, endorphin levels are increased by anything pleasurable to you. So go for that afternoon walk, book that massage, eat that piece of chocolate or drink that glass of wine …. And then go thank your endorphins for those warm fuzzy feelings!
Tom Scheve “What are endorphins?” 22 June 2009. HowStuffWorks.com. https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/endorphins.htm 30 October 2019
Jacquelyn Cafasso “Why do we need endorphins?” 11 July 2017. Healthline.com https://www.healthline.com/health/endorphins#purpose 30 October 2019
Crystal Raypole “13 Ways to Increase Endorphins” 27 September 2019. Healthline.com https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-increase-endorphins 30 October 2019
Jamie Ducharme “What is Reiki?” 18 September 2013. BostonMagazine.com https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2013/09/18/what-is-reiki/ 30 October 2019
Legally Blonde. Dir. Robert Luketic. MGM. 2001. Film.