Endorphins are one of your body’s natural pain relievers and mood boosters. Endorphins are a type of hormone that also acts as a chemical messenger in your brain (neurotransmitter). They are released from your body when you have pain or pleasure, alongside other hormones such as dopamine, adrenaline, and endocannabinoids.
Endorphins are created by the central nervous system (CNS) in response to things that happen like fear, pain, or stress. When released, they block pain and control emotion to help you deal with stress, pain and promote feelings of pleasure. It’s why you feel good after doing certain activities like exercising, dancing or laughing.
There isn’t just one kind of endorphin – in fact, there are at least 20 kinds. One variety called beta-endorphins can be stronger than morphine in its effects on the body. This isn’t an unusual comparison – endorphins are regularly compared to opiates. However, endorphins can be non-addictive, unlike opiate drugs like morphine and codeine.
Short and Long Term Benefits of Endorphins
Endorphins have short-term benefits, meaning it responds to your body’s immediate needs, including reducing pain and discomfort, increasing pleasure, and improving your mood. But there are also longer-term benefits that come from the regular release of endorphins when doing activities that you enjoy or are good for you. These include:
- boosting self-esteem
- reducing stress, depression, and anxiety
- supporting a healthy immune system
- supporting memory and cognitive function
- regulating other hormones
- regulating appetite
How to Increase Endorphins
Every person will release endorphins for different reasons. Someone who gets an endorphin rush from exercising may not feel as many positive effects by listening to music or getting a massage, and vice versa. Depending on the activity and your endorphin levels, you may experience excitement, pleasure, or a sense of calmness.
- Exercise – Physical activity may help increase the release of endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a “runner’s high,” any aerobic activity, such as a game of tennis or a nature hike, can contribute to this same feeling.
- Dance – like no one’s watching, or like everyone is – whichever gets the endorphins pumping and makes you feel great!
- Sex – this one is a bit of a no-brainer as it doubles as a physical activity and a pleasurable one, so it’s no wonder you feel good afterward. Endorphins help to generate euphoric states associated with orgasm. They also regulate the release of several hormones, including sex hormones, prolactin, and growth hormone.
- Laughter – Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
- Listening to music – Many people know that putting on their favorite album or discovering new music is a great way to relax or make them feel happy. Science has revealed that listening to music releases endorphins and dopamine in the brain.
- Creative activities – Some people may also get the same release of endorphins from creating their own music or art, so give it a try and get creative!
- Spa activities – Meditation, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture, and sitting in a sauna can increase your endorphins — this is why they are associated with relaxation and feeling good.
- Eating certain foods – For the most part, eating is about fulfilling energy requirements for the body. But in some cases — like when eating your favorite ice cream — it is about pure pleasure. It involves several rewards systems, including those fueled by endorphins. Certain foods are also more likely to produce endorphins, such as wine, chocolate, and chili peppers. As with any food, these should be consumed in moderation.
- Being kind – When you do or say something nice, you will often feel good about yourself afterward. This is because physiologically, being kind boosts serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These are all neurotransmitters in the brain that cause the pleasure and reward centers in your brain to light up and give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being.
- “Biochemistry, Endorphin” via StatPearls
- “Opioids and the immune system – friend or foe” via British Journal of Pharmacology
- “Endorphins, oxytocin, sexuality and romantic relationships: An understudied area” via World Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
- “Roles of β-Endorphin in Stress, Behavior, Neuroinflammation, and Brain Energy Metabolism” via International Journal if Molecular Sciences
- “Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress” via Mayo Clinic
- “Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms” via Mayo Clinic
- “The art of kindness” via Mayo Clinic Health System