Endorphins and exercise: where’s the connection?

endorphins and exercise

Have you heard about endorphins but aren’t quite sure what they mean for your body? Or how important they might be in the prevention of chronic disease and mental health conditions? This post will help you take back control of your happy hormone… 

What are endorphins and why are they important?

One of the various ‘happy hormones’ in your body, endorphins stimulate the brain to produce sedative effects on the body, helping us to deal with stress and pain. This is because they are your body’s natural response to stress and therefore are really important in building up stress resilience. 

The effects of endorphins in addition to their immediate stress relief response are various. As they act on the brain’s opiate receptors, they encourage a natural high which generates feelings of euphoria. Research also suggests they help to regulate your appetite (1) and regulate your immune system (2,3). 

What’s the difference between endorphins and dopamine?

Whereas dopamine, one of the other ‘happy hormones’, controls the reward centres of the brain and therefore is associated with motivation and goal-setting, endorphins function more as natural painkillers, alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Serious deficiency of both chemicals has been linked to mental health problems, therefore the more we can encourage their production the better! 

In the case of dopamine this can be successfully achieved by breaking down your tasks into bite-sized chunks to ensure the feelings we experience after success come more frequently. However in the case of endorphins deficiency can be combated by making a few easy lifestyle changes.

Where do endorphins and exercise come in?

Endorphins may be connected with “runner’s high”, however it isn’t just running which stimulates them! We encourage everyone to get moving, as the production of these neurochemicals has been associated not only with vigorous exercise but also more moderate exercise, such as yoga, gardening and walking (4).

As a recent Oxford University study has found, taking part in group activities, such as joining a class at your local gym or a running club will also be of further benefit to you because sociability has also been linked to endorphin production (5,6). It has also been suggested the release of the hormone is not only an effect of social interactions, but may also be a key cause of friendships forming, so grab yourself a gym buddy if you can! 

To feel further part of a community, why not join the Reset Your Health plan, where our network includes access to a Facebook support group with answers to over 170 FAQs on our website, and ever growing informative blogs, plus great customer service.

How else can we generate endorphins?

Chocoholics can also rejoice!

Chocolate may not contain any special chemicals that act directly on endorphins (or any part of the brain for that matter) (7,8), but for people who enjoy eating it, the satisfaction alone may give you an endorphin boost (9)! For more detail on the overall health benefits of chocolate, take a look at our previous blog post here.

There are several other foods which have been linked to endorphin production, including brazil nuts, chillies and ginseng. By transitioning towards a healthy diet as part of the Reset Your Health plan, you can effectively boost not only your gut’s happiness but your own by eating endorphin-producing foods, using our powerful resource as part of a happy, healthy lifestyle. 

References 

1. Morley JE, Levine AS. The role of the endogenous opiates as regulators of appetite. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1982Apr;35(4):757–61. doi:10.1093/ajcn/35.4.757. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6122374/

2. Panerai AE, Sacerdote P. β-endorphin in the immune system: a role at last? Immunology Today. 1997Jul;18(7):317–9. doi:10.1016/S0167-5699(97)01045-1. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167569997010451

3. Mccain HW, Lamster IB, Bozzone JM, Grbic JT. B-endorphin modulates human immune activity via non-opiate receptor mechanisms. Life Sciences. 1982Oct11;31(15):1619–24. doi:10.1016/0024-3205(82)90054-6 Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0024320582900546

4. Bhandari S. Exercise and Depression: Endorphins, Reducing Stress, and More [Internet]. WebMD. WebMD; 2020Feb18 [cited 2020Jun27]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression

5. Friends ‘better than morphine’ [Internet]. University of Oxford. University of Oxford; 2016 [cited 2020Jun27]. Available from: http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-04-28-friendsbetter-morphine

6. Johnson KV-A, Dunbar RIM. Pain tolerance predicts human social network size. Scientific Reports. 2016Apr28;6(1). doi:10.1038/srep25267. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep25267

7. Parker G, Parker I, Brotchie H. Mood state effects of chocolate. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2006Jun;92(2-3):149–59. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2006.02.007. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16546266/

8. Nehlig A. Abstract. In: Coffee, tea, chocolate, and the brain. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2004. p. 204. Available from: Google Books

9. Dum J. Activation of hypothalamic β-endorphin pools by reward induced by highly palatable food. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 1983Mar;18(3):443–7. doi:10.1016/0091-3057(83)90467-7. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0091305783904677