One of The Greatest Benefits of Exercise

There are a plethora of reasons why everyone should exercise, however I will be discussing one of the greatest benefits of exercise– endorphin and enkephalin release. 

Endorphins and enkephalins  are both opiate like and are analgesic in nature.  When the systems of the body are under the influence of stress, endorphins and enkephalins are released by the anterior pituitary gland and hypothalamus. High concentrations of endorphins and enkephalins in the blood help reduce the synaptic signals of pain receptors.  By turning off the pain receptors the signals don’t transmit to the brain, instead a feeling of euphoria develops.  The euphoric feeling heightens a persons awareness.   This is the feeling that is often associated during and after an intense exercise bout.  

Essentially exercise is stress to the body. Once the regulatory system is compromised and the cells are experiencing an increase of activity beyond the normal threshold point, the anterior pituitary and hypothalamus begin to manufacture the body’s natural pain relievers to help comfort the nerves.  This analgesic system is necessary for human survival.  It is believed that the analgesic agents are used to help assist the sympathetic nervous system to withstand greater amounts of stress that are typically beyond what a person can endure.  This is why some people can be damaged and continue to press on.  For example, a soldier in battle might be shot in the leg and doesn’t even know it because of the rush of hormones and endorphins that are in their bloodstream.  The hormones temporarily numb the nerves.  It is  one of the most sophisticated chemical reactions in the body.  

The feeling of euphoria is addicting.  People who exercise reap the benefits of the natural high from endorphin and enkephalin release.  It is what keeps people coming back for more.  Initially the first few moments of exercise are painful, but as the exercise session continues the pain relievers release. Even though this feeling is wonderful there is a down side.  Many people who run often feel the runner’s high. Endorphins and enkephalins are released as the intensity goes beyond threshold.  The runner feels a sense of renewed energy and stamina as a result of the high concentration of the endogenous opioid peptides. Running can be a very destructive activity on the joints of the knee, ankle, and lower back if not performed correctly.  Many people will run through physical pain bypassing the warning signs in order to get the high.  The person becomes addicted to the opiate sensation regardless of the physical damage they are experiencing. Not all, but many runners are “running from the pain.”  Not only does it have to be physical.  Emotional pain is another reason why people are addicted to running and/or exercise.  Once the endorphins and enkephalins release the pain is masked.  Exercise is a great stress release, but if performed incorrectly exercise can be damaging to the body. 

Endorphins and Enkephalins are also released in other ways besides exercise.

*  Sexual intercourse

* Hot spicy food

* Laughter

* Acupuncture

* Massage 

Whenever there is a pain variable within the body, the body will release endorphins and enkephalins.  Even though sex is a pleasurable experience, it is perceived by the nerves of the reproductive system as pain. Eating hot spicy food elicits a painful response to the taste buds. Laughter increases the sympathetic nervous system and activates the solar plexus of the body which will elicit a pain response. Acupuncture is the administration of sticking needles into various meridian points of the body.  The puncture of the needle elicits the pain receptors in the skin, which will then cause a release of analgesics. Massage, if performed vigorously (sports massage, rolfing) will elicit a pain response activating pain relievers.

Endorphins and enkephalins also help boost immune functioning.  Research has been done over the years to determine the validity of endorphins and enkephalins in the reduction of cancer producing cells. The studies reveal that their is a link between endorphin and enkephalin production and cancer cell reduction.  Regular release of endorphin and enkephalins can help reduce alcohol and drug abuse cravings that many people suffer from. Endorphins and enkephalins activate the same neuronal sequence as mind altering drugs without the harmful side effects.  

Get out there and get high- naturally! Release those endorphins and enkephalins.

Daryl Conant, M.Ed

tags: daryl conant, vince gironda, ron kosloff, endorphins, enkephalins.