Hard physical exercise isn’t the only way to boost endorphin production. Certain foods, positive lifestyle changes, and mind-body healing techniques do too.
Most people are familiar with endorphins for the role they play in “runner’s high”– a state of euphoria and increased pain tolerance brought on by extreme physical exertion.
While strenuous physical exercise is the most widely known way to increase endorphins, it isn’t the only way.
Fortunately, some of the best things in life — like love, laughter, sunshine, and chocolate — also increase endorphins.
Here’s the research on other ways to boost endorphins naturally (without the agony).
Endorphins: Your Body’s Natural Painkillers
Endorphins are brain chemicals that act as your body’s natural painkillers.
The word endorphin derives from two words — endogenous (from within) and morphine (the main alkaloid of opium).
Endorphins comprise a group of feel-good neurotransmitters that reduce pain, lessen the negative effects of stress, and keep the immune system running smoothly. (1)
There are 3 distinct types — alpha, beta, and gamma-endorphins — but they are usually referred to collectively as endorphins.
" Your body’s natural painkilling endorphins, molecule for molecule, are up to 33 times stronger than morphine.
When your endorphin levels are low, you’re more likely to feel anxious, depressed, stressed out, and unable to enjoy life or experience joy.
Foods That Increase Endorphins
Certain foods either contain endorphins or encourage their release in the body.
Lucky for us, they also happen to be delicious!
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Chocolate is one of the all-time favorite comfort foods and can invoke a feeling similar to falling in love.
There are several compounds in chocolate that perform this magic.
One of them, phenylethylamine, works by raising endorphin levels. (2)
Hot peppers are hot due to the compound capsaicin.
When you eat hot peppers, your brain perceives the heat they cause as pain.
This causes endorphins to rush in to put out the fire.
This endorphin-stimulating quality makes capsaicin a useful treatment for the pain of arthritis, neuropathy, and severe itching.
Hot pepper enthusiasts find the “post-pepper euphoria” worth the pain. (4)
Alcohol consumption causes a release of endorphins in areas of the brain linked to feelings of pleasure. (5)
The key in boosting endorphins with alcohol is to drink moderately since heavier drinking negates the positive effect. (6)
Any Foods You Enjoy
While chocolate and spicy foods directly cause a flood of endorphins, there’s evidence that eating any food you enjoy stimulates the release of some endorphins. (7)
People who are low in either endorphins or the mood-enhancing brain chemical serotonin often crave foods that are high in carbohydrates or fats, both which can increase endorphin output. (8)
Raise Endorphin Levels With a Positive Lifestyle
Besides eating endorphin-boosting foods, there are other lifestyle choices that increase endorphins.
Many of these are associated with happiness and share the common thread of a connection with others and with nature.
Laugh Yourself Happy
The average child laughs 300 times per day.
Sadly, by the time we reach adulthood, that number plummets to 17 times per day. (9)
And that’s to our detriment since laughter, as they say, is the best medicine.
One of the ways in which laughter reduces pain, boosts your immune system, and increases happiness is by boosting levels of endorphins. (10)
If you don’t really feel like laughing, it’s OK to fake it.
Surprisingly, simply the anticipation of expected hilarity, such as settling down to watch a funny movie, increases endorphins. (13)
Exercise With Others
I promised that you wouldn’t have to exercise to increase endorphin production — and you don’t!
But sitting all day is mind-numbing and unhealthy, so you should get some exercise anyway.
Here’s a tip to get the most from whatever exercise you do.
When you exercise, do it with others.
Not only are you more likely to show up, but exercise will seem to be easier and to take less time.
It’s not your imagination.
Taking an exercise class or having an exercise partner increases endorphins and tolerance to pain more effectively than exercising alone. (14)
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Lend a Helping Hand
A study done at the US National Institutes of Health found that helping others activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. (15)
A flood of endorphins caused by being generous has been coined “helper’s high.”
You can help friends or family, give to your favorite charity, or volunteer for a cause you care about.
Gossip (It’s OK, Really)
While giving to others is an altruistic way to increase endorphins, one of humanity’s less noble pursuits — gossip — can do the same.
While this might seem counterintuitive, both helping and gossiping are basic ways that humans connect with others.
Apparently, gossiping is a primitive need that’s essential for our social and psychological well-being. (16)
And for better or for worse, electronic devices, the internet, and social media make it easier than ever to share gossip.
Fall in Love
Phenylethylamine, the endorphin-boosting compound found in chocolate, is also produced by our brains when we fall in love. (17)
It’s not possible to be “in love” all of the time, but having sex will do!
You’ll get a burst of endorphins when you have an orgasm, whether you are with a partner or “flying solo.” (18)
Addiction to endorphins may explain why breaking up with someone you’re in love with causes such pain.
The shutdown of endorphin production when we are cut off from a loved one is not dissimilar to going cold turkey from an addictive substance. (19)
While you can buy phenylethylamine supplements, we don’t recommend it.
Listening to music, especially music that makes you feel joyful, increases endorphins. (22)
Even better than listening, is to participate in making music — grab an instrument or mic, or get up and dance.
Playing an instrument, singing, and dancing all stimulate endorphin release more than passive listening. (23)
And best yet is to play in a band or sing with others which adds an additional layer of endorphin-boosting effects. (24)
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Catch Some Rays
Visit a crowded beach on a summer’s day and you’ll see how much people enjoy being in the sun.
What makes sunbathing so appealing?
The best-known benefit of sun exposure is essential vitamin D formation, but the sun’s ultraviolet radiation also boosts endorphin production.
Tanning, especially indoor tanning, feels so good that some people become addicted to its endorphin rush! (25)
While you never want to get so much sun that you risk sunburn, moderate amounts of sun exposure can make you healthier and happier in more ways than one.
Make Time to Play
When we become adults, we tend to put aside our childish things and, unfortunately, one of these is play.
Most adults consider playing a waste of time, but it can reduce stress, exercise your brain, boost creativity, strengthen relationships, and even make you feel younger. (26)
If your main form of entertainment is screen time, turn off your electronic devices and engage in some endorphin-enhancing fun instead.
If it’s been so long that you’ve forgotten how to play, here are some ideas to get you started:
Play With a Child or Pet
Spend time with a child or pet.
They haven’t forgotten how to play and can be the best teachers.
Take a trip down memory lane and see what you’ve got stashed away.
Get out your old board games, arts and crafts supplies, or family photos.
They can remind you of what you used to enjoy before you grew up.
Go to a Park
Visit a nearby park for ideas.
Seeing the options — basketball, tennis, soccer, volleyball, and frisbee tossing — might encourage you to join in!
Take a Sauna
Taking a sauna is a traditional way to relax, detox, and socialize.
It offers many health benefits, including increasing endorphins. (27)
It’s believed that the heat from a sauna is responsible for this effect, so if you don’t have access to a sauna, taking a hot shower can also do the trick.
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Boost Endorphins With Mind-Body Healing Techniques
Mind-body healing techniques of all kinds can help you relax and, thereby, reduce stress and anxiety.
Increasing endorphins is one of the mechanisms that make these activities so beneficial.
Amazingly, your body’s natural painkilling endorphins, molecule for molecule, are up to 33 times stronger than morphine. (28)
Meditation is one of the best things you can do for your health and happiness.
Regularly doing meditation reduces the stress hormone cortisol, while increasing endorphins.
Together, this diminishes chronic inflammation, an underlying cause of many diseases and mental disorders, including depression. (29)
Sitting and quieting the mind isn’t the only effective way to meditate.
Biofeedback is a technique that teaches you how to alter body functions you normally have no conscious control of, such as heart rate or blood pressure.
There are several kinds of biofeedback.
When biofeedback utilizes the monitoring of brain waves, it’s called neurofeedback.
Neurofeedback is a proven tool for increasing endorphins to minimize stress, significantly improve depression, and help with alcohol addiction. (32)
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Watch a child or a pet sleep and you’ll see that their belly, rather than their chest, moves up and down.
This deep breathing from the diaphragm is the way we are meant to breathe, but few of us do.
Most adults take shallow breaths from the chest instead.
Jeffrey Rossman, PhD is the director of life management at the world-famous Canyon Ranch and author of The Mind-Body Mood Solution.
In his book, he explains that when you breathe at the rate of six breaths per minute, your heart and breath become synchronized.
He recommends achieving synchronization with a simple resonant breathing exercise.
Breathe in from your belly for 5 seconds and then breathe out for 5 seconds.
Do this for one minute.
This sends a signal to the brain to release endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.
Getting a massage can do more than make you feel relaxed or soothe achy muscles.
The healing touch of massage can reduce stress hormone levels while increasing levels of endorphins and oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.” (33)
Acupuncture is an ancient practice that’s now used in Western countries predominantly for treating pain and stress.
Science has yet to uncover exactly why it works.
Traditionally, acupuncture is believed to work by redirecting the flow of energy, known as qi or chi.
But research has uncovered a more scientific explanation.
It’s now known that acupuncture causes the brain to release endorphins. (34)
Since endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers, one theory posits that the discomfort of the needles is enough to cause the brain to release endorphins.
Studies show that skeptics are less likely to experience benefits from acupuncture than believers. (35)
This makes sense when you consider that just the anticipation of healing stimulates endorphin release. (36)
How to Increase Endorphins Naturally: Take the Next Step
Endorphins belong to a group of neurotransmitters normally created when you are under stress or in pain.
They are popularly associated with “runner’s high.”
But there are numerous ways in which you can increase the production of these potent brain chemicals that don’t involve strenuous exercise.
Food, social activities, play, and mind-body healing techniques can stimulate the release of beneficial endorphins.