How can I get endorphins without exercise?
Exercise is a well-known way to get endorphins, but there are a number of other ways in which these beneficial 'feel-good' chemicals are released naturally without exercising, including massage, socialising, acupuncture, dancing, playing or singing along to music and eating your favourite foods.
What do endorphins do?
Endorphins are chemicals released from an area of the brain known as the pituitary gland. They can trigger a positive, happy feeling and are also linked to a reduction in pain levels and stress.
How to release endorphins naturally without exercising
While exercise is one of the more commonly known ways to release endorphins naturally, there are several other ways to increase them and help you to feel upbeat, ease pain and reduce stress. So, let's take a look at each of these in a little more detail:
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Booking yourself in for a massage could trigger the release of endorphins without you having to do any exercise. In this case, it is thought that the increase in blood flow caused by massage may lead to the release of endorphins. On top of this, massage helps to calm the mind and ease out tension in the muscles. This may add to the positive feelings initiated by feel-good hormones.
Getting together with friends or meeting up with new people is another way to get a boost of endorphins without having to get your trainers out!
When we interact with other people, endorphins attach to opioid receptors in the brain and this causes us to feel upbeat. Also, research shows that β-endorphins are essential in helping us to create and sustain connections with other people. (1)
The positive effects of endorphins may help to control stress more effectively. Also, in another study, it was found that those who had a larger social network had a higher tolerance to pain. Here the researchers connected these effects to the fact that participants had a higher exposure to endorphins during social events. (2)
In another study, it was shown that socialising could also enhance the effects of endorphins that are released during exercise. Participants released more endorphins when rowing a boat with other people compared to when they did the activity alone. This was despite the fact that the activity itself required the same level of physical output. (3)
From helping to reduce stress levels to managing aches and pains, acupuncture has lots of health benefits. It is also another way to get endorphins without doing exercise. (4)
During this treatment, extremely fine needles are inserted into specific areas of the body. This works to stimulate nerves under the skin and muscles and this triggers the release of endorphins. This may explain why the treatment helps with pain relief.
If you want to try acupuncture yourself the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care can provide a list of accredited acupuncture practitioners.
Putting on some music and having a dance around your kitchen or living room could be another way to release endorphins. Unsurprisingly, the more vigorous your dancing is, the more likely it is that endorphins will be released. What is perhaps more interesting, though, is the fact that dancing with others could improve endorphin release further.
In one study, participants who were encouraged to dance in synchronisation with others had a greater pain threshold. The researchers used this to measure endorphin levels - the higher the pain threshold, the more endorphins were present.
An additional benefit of dancing with a group was that the individuals felt closer and more connected to others, perhaps as a result of the role endorphins have to play in helping to facilitate social connections. (5)
So, put on the radio when you make your dinner, or have a bedroom disco and see if you feel the benefit. You could even arrange a Zoom call to get the added benefits of dancing with others!
Your favourite band or pop singer could also stimulate the release of endorphins.
Crucially, it's been found that actively participating in the music by playing, singing, tapping, humming and dancing along has been shown to increase endorphin levels, rather than just listening to the music itself. This can increase the pain threshold which we know from the studies mentioned above is often used as a measure of endorphin levels. (6)
The pain-relieving benefits brought about by endorphins have been found to be so significant that participating in music has been found to benefit conditions such as arthritis. (7)
To make the most of these benefits consider joining a choir. Alternatively, why not take up a new instrument?
Food is yet another way to get the high of endorphins. In one piece of research, participants who ate pizza had significant endorphin release afterward. Interestingly, though, so too did a control group who consumed a nutritional drink of the same calorific value. (8)
This would suggest that we don't have to eat unhealthily or opt for comfort foods to get the release of endorphins. Your favourite healthy foods are likely to have the same effect. Still, if that doesn't convince you, there are ways to make pizza healthier but no less enjoyable. Try making your own, for example, or opt for toppings with lots of vegetables.