House Calls

SPR 2019

House Calls Magazine is a quarterly publication that focuses on health and wellness. It includes a wide assortment of articles with topics on the latest health and wellness information, nutrition, safety, lifestyles, and more.

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A 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics reveals fewer than 23 percent of American adults get enough exercise. That means the rest may be missing out on not only the cardiovascular and strength-building benefits of exercise, but also its pleasure-boosting benefits associated with certain brain chemicals, including the pain-relieving wonder, endorphins. "Endorphins are the body's own mood elevator," explains Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated endocrinologist Dr. Louis Haenel. Here, we explore how to tap into this healthy, all-natural high. ENDORPHINS: DEFINED Perhaps the easiest way to understand the meaning of "endorphin" is to break down the word origin. It's a melding of "endogenous," or "from within the body," and "morphine," an opium-derived narcotic. There are no narcotic addiction worries about endorphins, though—they're our bodies' all natural feel-better helpers. "It's a well-being boost that the brain is effectively making for itself," explains Dr. Haenel. These feel-good fighters get called into duty by the hypothalamus, the brain's tiny-but-mighty, pearl-sized control center tasked with maintaining balance throughout the systems of the body. In response to stressors like pain or vigorous exercise, the hypothalamus cues the pituitary gland (which is connected to the hypothalamus), to do its main job: secrete hormones such as I t's springtime and the azaleas are popping. The Carolina wrens are nesting. And some people are flocking to Charleston's colorful trails, parks, and paths to get moving. It's an idyllic environment for enjoying a workout, but recent research shows the majority of us just aren't exercising, whether outdoors or in. P H O T O G R A P H ( D R . H A E N E L ) B Y B R E T T T I G H E 36 { spring 2019 } h o u s e c a l l s endorphins into the bloodstream. Once there, endorphins bind to and activate the body's opiate receptors on nerve cells of the central nervous system, causing a pain-blocking, pleasurable effect. You've probably heard of a "runner's high"— a phrase used to characterize the feel-no-pain bliss after a bout of high exertion. "We've used this term for a long time because we recognized that doing higher-intensity activity seems to be a release factor for endorphins," Dr. Haenel explains. "The body literally experiences a higher level of energy and an elevated mood after high-intensity exercise." In addition to endorphins, other factors might contribute to that natural high, as well. "We now know that there's another system of chemicals in the body and brain called the endocannabinoid system, which produces effects similar to cannabis," he says. A 2015 study found that when mice ran on a wheel, their endocannabinoid system was activated and they experienced reduced anxiety and pain levels afterward. Dr. Louis Haenel MORE WAYS TO TAP INTO ENDORPHINS While moderate- or high-intensity exercise is the heart-healthiest way to get that mood-boosting release, science suggests additional ways to spark the chemicals Meditation. Research in 2017 found that healthy yoga and meditation students showed reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as significant increases in endorphin levels after 12 weeks. "Especially when people are physically limited in terms of a cardiovascular program, I'll recommend yoga, Pilates, and stretching," Dr. Haenel says. Acupuncture. Studies show acupuncture treatment can increase the effectiveness of standard medical care, lessening the severity of chronic pain and depression. One study showed increased endorphin levels after treatment with both manual acupuncture and electro-acupuncture (which includes an electric current). Spicy foods. Research has shown capsaicin—the active ingredient in spicy foods—aids in releasing endorphins. It's thought that the body interprets the spice as a pain trigger rather than merely a flavor, sending an alert to block the pain with endorphins. "Endorphins are the body's own mood elevator." —DR. LOUIS HAENEL

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