Get “High” On Exercise!

by Jeanne Rhodes


“It’s like I’m in another world. I lose track of time and even of myself. There is no separation between me and what I am doing. I am the dance and everything else is far, far away. Life looks beautiful and I am filled with love and compassion. I can do anything.”

A religious seeker? A teenager high on drugs? The reports of people who experience feelings of well being and euphoria during exercise sound similar to descriptions of altered states of consciousness induced by drugs, meditation and other spiritual practices. And in some ways they are.

So what is the “exercise high?” People report all sorts of good feelings both during and for several hours following exercise. Exercisers commonly report feeling less stress, irritation, depression and anxiety and improved self-esteem, mood and ability to concentrate.

Others experience a transcendence of sorts that includes feelings of euphoria, serenity and detachment of being one with the activity. They report changes in their perception of time and a loss of the self-consciousness that can interfere with athletic performance.

You don’t need a long period of high-intensity exercise to experience an exercise high. Even short periods of exercise can make you feel better. Some research suggests that 30-40 minutes of exercise is a good amount. This could even be combining different activities, such as 15 minutes of rowing and 20-25 minutes of cycling. Although moderately vigorous to vigorous exercise is most often associated with an exercise high, even low-intensity recreational activity will help reduce feelings of stress, irritability and anxiety. It’s important that the amount and type of exercise be appropriate for you; trying to do too much too soon will more likely lead to frustration and injury than euphoria.

What if you’ve never liked exercise, let alone gotten “high”. Is there anything you can do to help yourself enjoy exercise more?

Some people feel that exercise is hard work. To change that feeling, try the following. First of all, reassess your exercise program to be sure it is meeting your needs and that you are including activities you enjoy the most (or dislike the least). Think positive, remind yourself of your health, weight and fitness goals. Chart your progress. Find something to enjoy about your program: a break during the workday, getting outside, feeling invigorated after the workout. It takes time to cultivate a positive attitude, but it is worth the effort.

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist, Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.