Getting high on exercise

by Karl Lenser

This natural “high” that comes with exercise is basically a feeling of euphoria and exhilaration that is sometimes difficult to explain. For those of us who exercise regularly, we realize that there is definitely a positive emotional and psychological boost that comes from physical activity.

Back in the 1970s when the running boom started, many runners would boast about the “runner’s high” that they experienced after a run. The sense of accomplishment and overcoming one’s self (I didn’t skip the workout) is part of the high that comes with exercise.

Besides the physical benefits of exercise (lower risk of obesity, osteoporosis, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases), we know that exercise can produce a multitude of psychological benefits. Lower stress levels, less anxiety, lower levels of irritability, less depression and a greater self-esteem are several of the benefits that come from performing physical activity. Exercise is the cheapest and most enjoyable “happy hour” you can attend, and the “hangover” is pleasant and lasts a long time! You will have more energy and feel awake and alert for hours in addition to being more relaxed and calm.

But what kind of exercise elicits this natural high? Most research tends to indicate that a moderate to vigorous workout is generally associated with this euphoric feeling, but low-intensity sessions have also been known to produce the positive emotional and mental benefits. The main thing is to find the exercise that you enjoy and be careful you don’t go overboard with your new zest for exercise and end up on the injured list. If you enjoy the exercise, you will probably stick with it for a long time. Consistency is the key to exercise success!

Can this “high” lead to an exercise addiction? Possibly. Exercise can be addictive, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. Most of the time, getting hooked on exercise yields many positive benefits that were mentioned above. It can be a healthy addiction, but some individuals become negatively addicted to exercise, and the exercise sessions become an obsession that can ruin marriages and work relationships. Many of these addicts will not stop exercising despite being injured or sick. Exercise becomes a way to limit their participation in life and becomes the most important thing in their life.

The exercise high or “post-workout euphoria” may never be felt by you, but that is OK. For many, exercise is boring and too much work and it is a chore to just walk around the block. For even the hardcore exercisers, exercise is not always easy and the most exciting thing to do. Getting up at 5 a.m. is not always pleasant and a positive experience, but for those who CHOOSE to experience exercise and have the discipline and dedication, the benefits outweigh the negatives by a huge margin.

Find your exercise niche. Record your workouts in a logbook. Find a workout buddy or join a fun group exercise class. Get outside and go for a walk and get some sunshine whenever possible. Set a goal that is realistic. As my sixth grade teacher once said, remember the “3 V’s” in life: Vim, Vigor and Vitality. They are the rewards that are reaped from exercise.