“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.”
Elle Woods said it, she meant it, and she might be right.
Endorphins are essentially naturally occurring opioids (so the body reacts to our endorphins similarly to how it reacts to drugs like oxycontin, vicodin, and morphine), and are generally associated with “emotions brought upon by laughter, love, sex, and even appetizing food.”
Beta-endorphins –– one of three endorphin types (and the most largely studied) –– are present in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and the central nervous system (CNS). The pituitary gland releases these beta-endorphins in response to stress and pain.
In the PNS, these endorphins block the release of Substance P which helps us process and experience pain. In this way, beta-endorphins help relieve pain.
In the CNS, these endorphins block the neurotransmitter GABA, which then causes the body to produce dopamine (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter). Dopamine creates reward-seeking loops, which basically means we want more of what makes us feel good. Having high levels of dopamine can be linked to higher goal-oriented behaviors.
But a recent study suggests that the “runner’s high” that we’ve long associated with endorphins might actually be caused by a different chemical the brain releases in conjunction with beta-endorphins. (Sorry Elle!)
Still, endorphins make us happy. They make us feel good. Like, really good. Like better-than-morphine good.
My favorite ways to boost my endorphins (and just feel good overall) are running and listening to music. What are yours?