Do you ever wonder why you feel better after a long run, a roll in the hay or a good laugh? It's not just because you've relieved exercise guilt, had a wham-bam orgasm or heard an absolute knee-slapper. That elated feeling, which can last up to 12 hours for some people, has a scientific explanation. It comes from a release of endorphins.
"Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced in the brain that reduce pain," says Alan Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. "They have also been known to induce euphoria." Drugs such as morphine, heroine and cocaine are classic endorphin-releasing entities, according to Dr. Hirsch. But luckily for us, there are less-addictive ways of experiencing such sweet rhapsody.
Eat a chili pepper
Some say eating hot peppers is an addiction. The rush you get after holding one on your tongue is likely due to your body's protective response. "Chewing a hot pepper can release endorphins centrally and on the tongue," says Dr. Hirsch. Why? To reduce pain, of course.
Endorphin factor: 1 to 3, depending on how hot you can stand 'em.
Think positive thoughts
"When people take a placebo and they believe something's helpful, it often works," says Joel Fuhrman, MD, family physician and author of author of books including Eat for Health and Eat to Live. That's a direct result of the power of positive thinking, which can release endorphins that may actually ease pain even if a medication is physically ineffective.Endorphin factor: 2. Hey, that's an instant feel-good moment just by the power of perspective.
People who jog regularly often talk about a "runner's high," which is a release of endorphins that happens when they hit a certain point in their workout. Dr. Fuhrman notes that the science of endorphins-from-exercise is controversial, and that some medical professionals believe the positive feeling you get when you meet a physical challenge, rather than the exertion itself, is what stimulates the endorphin release. But whatever the cause, exercise has been proven to enhance mood. Dr. Fuhrman recommends prolonged activities such as cross-country skiing, swimming, tennis or a long cardio workout for the best effects. So come on, it's time to try your hand at a new workout routine!
Endorphin factor: 2 to 4. It's all about intensity and duration.
Have an orgasm
"I personally think that having an orgasm is a great way to get a rush of endorphins," says Dr. Fuhrman. "You may have to run for an hour to get a runner's high, depending on your body. Sex is less effort." (And, ahem, much more fun.)Endorphin factor: 5, even if it's a quickie.