What the health?: Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.

Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. (credit: Elizabeth Haldane/Sports Editor) Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. (credit: Elizabeth Haldane/Sports Editor)

Your parents always told you “Don’t do drugs!” but little did you know your body made the choice for you. Inside each of our bodies are natural drugs — natural painkillers, called “endorphins.” Endorphins work by blocking pain signals from nerve cells to the spinal cord. Think of them as the brain’s little army. When the brain realizes there is pain being sent from the nerve cells, it casts out these warriors to protect our spinal cord, thus preventing us from feeling pain.

We’ve all heard of them, and maybe you know a couple ways to activate these feel-good polypeptide compounds. The truth is, a multitude of studies have been done on endorphins and their origins, and while scientists have not yet proven that specific activities cause a “rush of endorphins,” there has been significant evidence toward an improved state of being, both emotionally and chemically, after certain human activities. And if there is even a slight chance of experiencing the positive effects of endorphins, what does one have to lose in trying out these simple yet largely beneficial activities?

Many of these actions are surprising and enjoyable, such as eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate, which is full of flavonoids and antioxidants. Strolling through the Carnegie Museum of Art or watching Titanic may also release endorphins. According to YourTotalHealth, an online resource center, “viewing beautiful art, watching a touching dramatic scene or even listening to an inspiring piece of music can produce endorphins.” Experiencing fear, acupuncture, sex, the warmth of the sun, spicy food, meditation, and even yawning have all been shown to increase the level of endorphins in the body. It is clear that we unknowingly take these painkillers many times per day. The more the merrier, right? In this case, that statement couldn’t be more appropriate.

But the most commonly known theoretical way of releasing your natural pain-fighters is exercise. Of course, exercise can completely alter one’s mood just in the sheer feeling of accomplishment. But what many avid gym-goers don’t know is that these compounds are working wonders in their bodies. Acting as the aforementioned brain’s army, endorphins are released to keep athletes from realizing they are enduring bodily stress. There have been reports of runners who felt that after some amount of time in their workout, they could keep running with no pain. Not only do these endorphins offer an extra rush of power to somebody working out, but they have also been proven again and again to lead to an improvement in mood and a feeling of motivation. But, as with any topic related to health, this benefit is what you make of it. A leisurely walk may activate a couple endorphins and let you forget your worries for a bit, but an intense spinning class may just make your day.

So next time you are angry at your best friend or cranky because you didn’t sleep enough, get moving. It doesn’t have to take long for the endorphins to take effect; just push yourself and you will feel the benefits. The best part? You can retake this painkiller however many times you want, in whatever time period you choose. There is no promise you won’t get addicted, but no prescription is needed. Try it; your body will thank you later.