Endorphins, often called the happy hormone, have a pretty good reputation concerning exercise. Endorphin levels are known to increase after we work out, and the result is a feel-good feeling.
But, whilst the simple science is relatively well known, it’s helpful to have a good look at precisely what causes the release of endorphins and how they impact our mood.
That way, we can use them as motivation to exercise and use them as a tool to look after ourselves. In essence, how we can use our bodies to look after our brains?
What exactly are endorphins?
Endorphins are a bodily chemical. Their name literally means ‘morphine from the body’, which helps to give you an idea of what they do.
Endorphins are produced by the nervous system in response to specific stimuli, and they’re secreted by the pituitary gland.
To be honest, the exact purpose of endorphins isn’t fully understood, but what we do know is that they reduce pain and enhance pleasure. Their effect is similar to opioids, a class of drug used to treat pain and relieve stress.
What is the cause and effect of endorphins?
The release of endorphins is related to lots of different external stimuli, including eating, drinking, sex, social interaction, and exercise.
When this neurochemical is released by the brain, the result is a sense of feeling good and reduced reports of stress, anxiety, and pain.
On the contrary, low endorphin levels are linked to depression, fibromyalgia, low mood, and headaches.
What’s worth knowing about exercise and endorphins
Endorphins are released after about 30 minutes of exercise:
It’s most effective to exercise for 30 minutes or longer to experience the full benefit of endorphin release. It’s after this time that research has shown that levels of endorphins significantly increase.
Handy, because that’s also the daily recommendation from the NHS. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise is a good amount of time to get your heart rate up, your blood pumping, and that oxygen flowing around your body.
Endorphins could be responsible for runner’s high:
Runner’s high isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been around for a while. And whilst it’s not 100% known what causes this feeling, endorphins are a pretty solid case for runner’s high.
Runner’s high is described as a euphoric feeling and a lasting good mood that you get after a run. It’s the reason so many people enjoy the activity and sometimes even become addicted to it.
New research suggests HIIT is best for endorphin release:
When exercise is prescribed, it’s often recommended that the intensity be ‘moderate’, which is a helpful way to describe any aerobic activity like running, swimming, or cycling.
However, new research suggests that more intense activity could be even better for endorphin release. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, has shown to be highly effective for helping your body produce the happy hormone. Exercising in this style includes short, sharp bursts of intense exercise followed by rest.
Group exercise is most effective for endorphins:
Exercise isn’t the only thing that can lead to the release of endorphins. Social interaction can do it too. So, it’s not a surprise that research now suggests that group exercise is most effective for increasing your endorphin levels.
If there was ever an argument for CrossFit, cheesy cheering in spin classes, and group dance workouts – this is it.
Exercise can effective as part of a treatment for those that suffer from depression or anxiety:
It’s by no means suggested that exercise can effectively cure complex mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Those who suffer chronically from them will know that management can be complicated, and everybody is different.
However, knowing that a workout can provide access to an endorphin release is a helpful tool for the kit of managing mental health struggles. Exercise has shown to be effective as part of treating both acute and chronic anxiety and depression.