Since I wrote a book about planning for joy, I’ve received a steady stream of letters from readers with requests for advice about everything from parenting to time management. But a recent letter really caught my attention. In my book, “The Joy Plan,” I talk about the multiple hormonal benefits of sex. The reader who wrote to me, however, isn’t in a sexual relationship right now. She’d recently been through a painful divorce and wondered how she could still get the benefits of all those good sex hormones while single and not looking to mingle.
What a great question! While sex in a loving relationship can be pretty wonderful, it isn’t a requirement for the flow of good-feeling hormones. Give these five things a try to see for yourself.
Exercise does a body good. Just like sex, even mild exercise decreases cortisol, the stress hormone we want to keep under control. It also raises endorphin levels. Endorphins are naturally occurring opioid (pain-relieving) hormones that induce a feeling of well-being. Endorphins are responsible for the “high” of a runner’s high and the rush you feel after a yoga class or hot-and-heavy session in the sack. Research shows that exercising with others can boost endorphins even further, but all exercise is good, whether solo or in a group. Try walking, joining a group class or following along to an exercise video to experience the myriad hormonal benefits of exercise.
2. Deep Breathing
“Just breathe!” You’ve heard it plenty of times before. But do you know why it feels so good? Deep breaths send oxygen to the brain and reduce cortisol levels while calming the brain’s danger-sensing amygdala. Multiple studies show that regular deep breathing lowers stress — something meditation has in common with sex. Try maintaining a daily mindfulness practice or joining a yoga or tai chi class where the focus is on the breath. You may not be panting with pleasure, but your body will still enjoy the multiple benefits of breath.
3. Loving Touch
Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” and is released in abundance during sex. But that’s not the only way to get your oxytocin fix. Giving hugs throughout the day is a simple way to both give and receive the gift of oxytocin. Cuddles with a pet can also bring on the warm and fuzzy effects of oxytocin. In addition to increasing oxytocin, loving touch also lowers cortisol and reduces stress. Several studies have shown that receiving a massage can reduce cortisol levels by 30 percent.
4. Mood Foods
Not getting enough pleasure below the belt right now? No worries. Pleasure is also accessible through your taste buds. Have you ever wondered why you love chocolate so much? It isn’t just yummy; chocolate contains compounds that encourage the release of endorphins (in small amounts), which can provide a happy high. Go ahead and add an extra dash of hot sauce to your food as well; capsaicin, the chemical compound responsible for the heat in chili peppers, binds to nerve cells in the nose and mouth that send signals to the brain to release endorphins. Spicy chocolate, anyone?
5. Solo Sex
Orgasms have wonderful health benefits, regardless of how they happen! The big "O" brings on a chemical cocktail that includes oxytocin, endorphins and the hormone prolactin — creating a cascade of pleasurable feelings as well as positive health benefits. Although prolactin is usually associated with breastfeeding, according to The Journal of Sexual Medicine, both nonlactating women and men get a hit of this feel-good hormone with orgasm. For healthy premenopausal women, a study at the University of Michigan showed an increase in estrogen in response to viewing sexy images (no physical stimulation required). And when it comes to oxytocin, according to Sara Gottfried, M.D., while orgasm is a great way for women to boost levels of this hormone, it can also be achieved by “physical stimulation of the clitoris, vagina, cervix and breasts.” In other words, feel free to take matters into your own hands.
What Do YOU Think?
How do you boost your warm fuzzy hormones? Do you feel better after exercising? Do you find it challenging to do any of these activities? Tell us in the comments!