4 Fun Ways to Boost Endorphins

By Vicki Santillano, DivineCaroline

ďHereís to feeling good all the time,Ē declares Kramer in one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld. Heís smoking and drinking when he says it, but for those of us on a more positive health path, there are plenty of other ways to do just that (or at least get close). Consider endorphins, the chemicals that transmit information from one cell to another in the central nervous system and produce feelings of euphoria, intimacy, happiness, and overall well-being. Stress and pain are primarily what activate their release, because itís when we experience those feelings that we need a mood boost most. However, endorphin production is not limited to situations like worrying about a work performance review or being chased by a bear. There are much more enjoyable ways to reap the benefits of a surge of feel-good chemicals.

Exercise
Exercise is a surefire way to beat a case of the blues. Some even claim that exercising extra-hard will produce ďrunnerís high,Ē a euphoric state supposedly achieved through intense physical activity. Actually, the only reason I started jogging a few years ago was to see if this really exists, and while I certainly felt happier afterward, I couldnít tell if it was from a rush of endorphins or simply from my relief that the run was over.

Up until recently, the reality of runnerís high was highly disputed in the scientific community. The idea that exercising produces an endorphin rush makes sense, since it puts the body under physical stress (muscles straining, heart pumping, etc.). But pinpointing whether that happens in the brain, and therefore affects mood, is much harder to do without harming the humans being tested. Luckily, improving technology makes such studies easier. In fact, a 2008 study published in Cerebral Cortex used a PET scanner on athletesí brains both at rest and right after a two-hour run. Researchers found not only a significant increase in endorphins, but also that the endorphins attached to receptors in parts of the brain are responsible for emotions. Their discovery suggests a correlation between intense exercise and elevated mood levels.

Not a runner? Donít get discouragedóany kind of moderate to intense exercise, like heavy weight lifting or interval aerobics, can create the same rush. But if you push your body to the point of serious pain, it can have the opposite effect.

Love and Affection
There comes a point in every relationship when passionate love (signaled by a racing pulse, decreased appetite, etc.) starts to wane. Thatís when the relationship either comes to an end or, if endorphins step in, develops into something deeper and more meaningful. When youíre with someone you love and trust, a release of endorphins makes you feel secure, compassionate, and connected. Itís what strengthens long-term relationships.

Even if youíre not in love, just having physical contact with another person can achieve the mood increase. Hugging, holding hands, and other ways of getting close cause the same effect. You wonít feel automatically closer to an acquaintance you hug, but you will feel a small, albeit noticeable, rush of comfort. (Well, depending on the person, of course.)

Chocolate
Though science hasnít directly proven that eating chocolate lifts peopleís mood, who isnít a little happier after a square or two of sugary, creamy decadence? Chocolate contains well over three hundred chemicals, many of which affect happiness. Itís got phenylethylamine, a chemical the brain releases when we fall in love that makes us more alert and content. The tryptophan in chocolate prompts serotonin production and sends us into relaxation mode. As if these werenít enough, eating chocolate also tickles our taste buds into triggering an endorphin release. Itís their way of telling the brain, ďSheís eating something yummy; reward her!Ē Some in the scientific community feel that chocolateís chemical combination is still too mild to bring about significant mood elevation. But if it really doesnít make a difference, why do we crave it in times of stress and sadnessóor at all?

Laughter
Itís said that laughter is the best medicine, but is that really true in terms of physical health? Researchers at Loma Linda University sought to find the answer by testing the blood of participants asked to either watch a comedic movie of their choice or watch nothing. The funny-movie viewers had higher endorphin levels in their bloodstreams than those who didnít watch anything, both before, during, and after the movie, meaning that even anticipating laughing could signal an endorphin release. However, because the researchers couldnít test the endorphins in the brain (where emotions are regulated), thereís no true way of knowing whether that actually enhanced the subjectsí moods. But, as with chocolate, most people feel better after a few belly laughsóyou donít need science to tell you that.

As we saw with the runnerís-high study, constantly improving technology might help us reach a more definitive conclusion about what affects endorphin levels in the brain. But getting bogged down in the science of endorphins can be, well, a downer. Hereís what we do know: exercising, being in love, getting hugged, eating chocolate, and laughing are instant mood lifters. And just about anyone can do at least one of these things at any given moment. The next time youíre in a funk, try watching something funny, taking a long walk, or eating a little chocolate. Science is still working to prove that these things have a physical effect on our moods, but that doesnít mean we canít do informal studies of our own. Now thatís my kind of research.

 

Related:
8 Drug-Free Natural Highs
Health Benefits of Shopping?
Connection Between Pain and Pleasure

102 comments

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

LOVE it! love all 4

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Dale Overall

Sounds delightful to me, just had a bit of dark chocolate containing cherry and chilli! Such a variety of things one can do, especially exercise.

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Song Z.
Past Member 5 years ago

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Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

thanks

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Lauren Weinstock
Lauren Weinstock5 years ago

I think smiling should be up there as part of number 2. I'd call it; loving, hugging and smiling.
There's no way to feel bad when you're smiling- or hugging.

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Hannah M.
Hannah Morales5 years ago

Awesome. I've been told of these before, but it's easy to forget. Thanks for the post!

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Siti R.
Siti R5 years ago

all of the above, they work!

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Caitlin F.
Caitlin F5 years ago

Thank you :)

Laughter is the best medicience (and chocolate!) ;)

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Pat W.
Pat W5 years ago

yummm..chocolate...good for the soul

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Jennifer G.
Jennifer G5 years ago

Great, I like them all! Thanks for posting

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