Your body’s natural tranquilizers. Exercise and mental health. Get moving and feel better today!

Your Body’s Natural Tranquilizers

In the 1970s, scientists located certain Chemicals in the body called endogenous opioids that have the qualities of morphine. Endogenous opioids are divided into three groups: endorphins, enkephalins, and dynorphins. Research focused on the endorphin system because it aids in regulating pain awareness, blood pressure, and body temperature. Endorphins are associated with areas in the brain (the hypothalamus and limbic systems) that impact your emotions and behavior. During intense sustained exercise production of endorphins is increased by the pituitary gland, but it is unclear if the increase in endorphins can pass through the barriers surrounding the brain. Some researchers believe it does and that this increase is the cause of feelings of euphoria, or “runner’s high” reported by athletes. Many experts state more research is needed to prove the theory.


The Surgeon General (USA) recommends thirty minutes of physical activity daily for overall health. That amount of physical exertion is necessary to burn the calories needed to reduce the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes.

Other areas of study include experiments that suggest that sustained, modulated exercise that impacts the large muscles may activate opioid systems in the brain that trigger sensory nerves that go from the muscle to the brain. A number of studies do show that vigorous exercise somehow activates brain opioids, which increase ability to withstand pain and improve mood. Scientists continue to study the effects of endorphins on mood, emotions, and pain.

Researchers found that when you do aerobic exercise regularly your body builds up a tolerance to endorphins. As you increase the intensity and number of hours you exercise to produce the same endorphin release as when you first began to exercise, you will have to keep increasing the intensity and length of time. Since endorphins are similar to “opiates,” exercise can become addictive, because some athletes begin to require the analgesic effects of endorphins, the “runners high.”

Diane Peters Mayer


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