Smiling woman runningEndorphins are hormones that exist primarily in the brain and that are released when the body is under stress.

What are Endorphins?
Endorphins are peptide hormones that act as neurotransmitters—chemicals that help to carry signals across a nerve synapse. They are released when the body is under stress such as physical pain or intense exercise, and they cause feelings of euphoria and well-being, in addition to reducing pain signals.

Endorphins and Exercise
Endorphins are most commonly associated with exercise, although they are released in many situations that cause pain or physical stress to the body. The cellular energy that helps muscles moved is a result of glycogen. When muscles use up glycogen stores, the body releases endorphins. The release of endorphins causes the sensation commonly known as “a runner’s high.” Endorphins can contribute to generalized feelings of well-being and happiness after strenuous exercise, and the feelings last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

Endorphins and Psychology
Researchers are increasingly recognizing the role of endorphins in psychological well-being. Several studies have demonstrated that exercise can help to alleviate symptoms of depression and, in some people, may work as well as antidepressant medications. This may be due at least in part to the release of endorphins. While endorphins only lead to temporary feelings of well-being, their frequent release might have a long-term impact on mood elevation or might give people with depression the relief from negative feelings that they need in order to begin taking steps to feel better.

Massage, sex, and acupuncture may also release endorphins. People experiencing immense physical pain–such as getting a tattoo or having a broken bone–sometimes experience feelings of well-being due to an endorphin rush.


  1. Seligson, S. (2010, April 13). Exercise: The other antidepresant. BU Today RSS. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/today/2010/exercise-the-other-antidepressant/
  2. Stoppler, M. C. (2007, March 15). Endorphins: Natural pain and stress fighters. MedicineNet.

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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