When the days are getting shorter and the air outside is a lot colder, it’s tempting to stay indoors and do things that bring us comfort, like read books and watch movies. However, oftentimes our favourite winter activities leave us sedentary. When we are not as active as we are in the summer, it affects the balance of chemicals produced in the body that impacts how we feel pain and pleasure: our endorphins.
Endorphins are produced by the body to respond to things like stress, fear, or discomfort. They interact with the parts of your brain responsible for our emotional responses and sensitivity to pain.1–3 Endorphins are responsible for our feelings of pleasure and are involved in our built-in reward system linked to eating, drinking, sexual activity, and maternal behaviour.1
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help boost the level of endorphins in your body. One of those things is exercise.1,4
Exercise encourages the body to produce more endorphins. For example, sometimes runners experience a “runner’s high” level of vitality after a workout.1,4 The same experience can be had for anyone after an extended period of physical exercise.5 There are other benefits to working your body physically: exercise can give you more energy throughout the day, allowing you to sleep better at night and feel more relaxed.4 It also helps the brain repair and recover, reduces inflammation in the body, and helps you feel calm and have an overall sense of well-being.4
The good news is that you can replicate these positive sensations by taking steps to add a bit more exercise into your day. Any activity leaving you out of breath for bouts of 10 minutes or more throughout the week can help you fend off the winter blues.6
It’s not just exercise that help your body boost endorphins: regular meditation, yoga, and tai-chi helps to decrease stress hormones and increase endorphins.3,7 Not only that, simple pleasures such as love, laughter, sunshine, and chocolate all increase endorphins as well.8
Take care of yourself this winter, and remember that there are lots of ways to make the short winter days a little brighter.
- Domonell K. Why endorphins (and exercise) make you happy. CNN. January 13, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/13/health/endorphins-exercise-cause-happiness/. Accessed October 14, 2016.
- Kundziņa I, Grants J. The relationship between beta endorphins and emotional state in physically active individuals aged 45-55 (a report on a pilot study). Polish Journal of Sport and Tourism. 2014; 21(3) 147-50. doi:10.2478/pjst-2014-0014.
- Scheve T. What are endorphins? HowStuffWorks.com. June 22, 2009. http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/endorphins.htm. Accessed October 20, 2016.
- Helpguide.org. The mental health benefits of exercise: the exercise prescription for depression, anxiety, stress, and more. 2016. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/exercise-fitness/emotional-benefits-of-exercise.htm. Accessed October 14, 2016.
- Boecker H, Sprenger T, Spilker ME, et al. The runner’s high: opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Cerebral Cortex. 2008; 18(11): 2523-31. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhn013.
- Physical activity tips for adults (18-64 years) – tips to get active – physical activity – Public Health Agency of Canada. Phac-aspcgcca. 2016. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/pa-ap/07paap-eng.php. Accessed December 21, 2016.
- Harte J, Eifert G, Smith R. The effects of running and meditation on beta-endorphin, corticotropin-releasing hormone and cortisol in plasma, and on mood. Biol Psychol. 1995; 40(3): 251-65.
- Alban D. How to increase endorphins naturally (exercise optional). Be Brain Fit. http://bebrainfit.com/increase-endorphins/. Accessed October 20, 2016.