We all know that exercise makes us feel good—both physically and mentally. This is no coincidence. It’s the result of feel-good neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, known as endorphins.
You see, when you start working out, your body actually perceives it as stress or pain, triggering your “fight or flight” response and releasing endorphins as an attempt to alleviate any discomfort and elevate the body’s ability to carry on, explains Jerry Bailey, D.C., LA.c., a certified nutritionist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, and functional medicine physician with Lakeside Holistic Health. This is why endorphins are sometimes referred to as the body’s “natural painkillers”; they actually activate opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort.
Not only do endorphins make you feel good, but they also help your body manage stress by counteracting the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol have been linked to myriad chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, mental illness, and even cancer.
Another perk of these natural painkillers: Some research suggests they might help bolster immune function, enhancing your body’s ability to fight off disease.
And though endorphins are typically associated with working out (hence the term “runner’s high”), sweating isn’t the only way to ramp up the production of these euphoria-inducing chemicals. Here, experts share a handful of other ways to do it.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Jerry Bailey, D.C., LA.c., is a certified nutritionist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, and functional medicine physician with Lakeside Holistic Health. Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., is a naturopath, acupuncturist, and the director of Arizona Natural Medicine.
1. Eat dark chocolate
There’s a reason why you feel instantly satisfied after enjoying a couple of bites of dark chocolate; it’s because the chemical compounds that dark chocolate contains actually stimulate endorphin production, explains Bailey. “Dark chocolate contains phenylethylamine, which can trigger the release of endorphins,” he says. “Although the endorphin rush from eating dark chocolate might not be as pronounced as that from exercise, it can still contribute to improved mood and satisfaction.”
2. Have satisfying sex
Did you know that endorphins are naturally released during sex? When you’re having sex, your heart rate starts to accelerate and your body works hard, not unlike it does when you’re working out. This, coupled with the potential of orgasm, can trigger the release of endorphins which can have various positive effects, including stress reduction, improved mood, and an overall sense of relaxation, explains naturopath Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., director of Arizona Natural Medicine. (That’s right; you don’t even have to reach the top of the mountain to get an endorphin buzz from sex.) Of course, individual responses to sexual activity can vary, and factors such as emotional connection, comfort, and overall health influence the impact of sex on endorphin release, she notes.
Read More: 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Affect Libido
If your libido has been MIA, you can invite it back to the party with some help from natural supplements like ashwagandha and maca, as well as lifestyle tweaks like making stress management a daily priority and scheduling more time for connection (and sleep!).
3. Try Acupuncture
This ancient Chinese healing practice, which involves inserting ultra-fine needles into specific trigger points on the body, is known to stimulate the production of beta-endorphins. “This response is thought to be the body’s way of mitigating the minor discomfort caused by the needles, leading to a sense of relaxation and well-being,” says Bailey. “It’s worth noting, however, that, while acupuncture can stimulate a significant endorphin release, it may not be as sustained as the one produced by exercise due to the shorter duration of the stimulus.” Still, regular acupuncture sessions can help support a sense of overall well-being, especially for those experiencing depression, anxiety, headaches, or chronic pain, he says.
This age-old practice of enhancing the connection between mind and body by focusing on the present has become increasingly popular in recent decades, as stress levels continue to rise. Though meditation is obviously a very different experience than exercise, it can have a similar effect. In fact, part of the reason it’s so successful at reducing stress is because it triggers the release of beta-endorphins. “When you meditate, you create a state of deep relaxation that reduces stress and promotes a sense of peace and well-being, partly mediated by the endorphins,” says Bailey. “The endorphin rush from meditation might not be as immediate as the one from physical exertion, but its effects can be more lasting, enhancing your mood and stress resilience throughout the day.” That’s why committing to a consistent daily practice is so important, even just for a few minutes. Use these tips to get started.
It might sound simple (because it is!), but laughing naturally boosts the production of beta-endorphins. “These have a powerful analgesic effect, which means they help alleviate pain, and are also known to have a role in modulating appetite, releasing sex hormones, and enhancing the immune response,” Bailey explains. As you’ve probably experienced after a solid belly laugh, its mood-enhancing effects are immediate and potent. And, laughter can be quite contagious, so when you laugh, you also encourage someone else to enjoy the good feelings of an endorphin release. Win, win!