Getting a runner’s high without running


Each week I look forward to a runner’s high at an intensity level I rarely achieved by running. I don’t run anymore. After a couple of foot surgeries my running days are over. It takes me about 22 to 25 minutes to get to this relaxed euphoric state, and it stays with me the rest of the day. 

While this state is subjective there is an objective proxy to gauge the intensity of this high. One of the attributes of a runner’s high is lower blood pressure. With the runner’s high my blood pressure remains 10 to 25 points lower for up to 24 hours before returning to my normal reading.

Runners have long known that if you run long enough and hard enough you will experience a runner’s high. It wasn’t until 1975(1) that scientists pinpointed what prompted the runner’s high. It is a group of hormones called endorphins.  Endorphins activate specialized receptors throughout the nervous system that block pain messages, they reduce the release of chemicals that cause inflammation and swelling, and they lower pressure.

To get your body to release these endorphins by running, the run has to demanding enough to produce an anaerobic response that results in the build-up of lactic acid. According to one study(2):

Intensive running with an anaerobic response causes an increase in the concentrations of β-endorphin…whereas slight aerobic exercise did not elicit any response.” 

Less demanding steady-state endurance running will release endorphins too, but it takes more running.  According to this study(3):

“In endurance exercise performed at a steady-state between lactate production and elimination, blood beta-endorphin levels do not increase until exercise duration exceeds approximately 1 hour.”

If running is not an option you can still release those endorphins.  Another study(4) found that:

“The results of this study indicate that acidosis [The buildup of lactic acid] rather than any other physiological change associated with high-intensity exertion is the primary stimulus for beta-endorphin release.”[Runner’s high]

The key here is that high-intensity exertion results in the buildup of lactic acid. Strength training can do that, particularly if there is less rest between exercises.  One study(5) found that strength training with one minute rest between exercises produced a greater endorphin response than a workout with three minutes rest between exercises. Less rest results in a larger lactic acid buildup.


The high intensity training (HIT) we do at our Austin Personal Training facility is a series of strength training exercises working all the major muscle groups with little rest between exercises.  In the photo above most of this 25 minute HIT workout is in the hardcore zone where there will be a buildup of lactic acid and a subsequent endorphin release.

Your trainer will have you build up to HIT slowly and see that you are constantly breathing and maintaining form. People of any age can do this. Over time you’ll be at a higher exertion level, produce more lactic acid, and have a significant endorphin response. Endorphin levels can remain elevated for hours and even into the next day. Your aches and pains will subside, you’ll be less stressed, your mood will improve, and you’ll sleep better. It is your body’s natural high. 

  1. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dh75en.html

  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0024320588901580

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1553453

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7836218

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8444727

Endorphins the body's natural high

Imagine being pleasantly euphoric with a lower stress level and having less aches and pains, lower blood pressure, and sounder sleep. You can get there without a pill.

Endorphins, endogenous opiates, produce a natural high. They are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland as a response to stimuli such as pain, fear, or stress. Endorphins alleviate the discomfort associated with the exertion of exercise, and can remain elevated for hours and even into the next day.

For exercise to stimulate the release of endorphins the exercise has to be sufficiently demanding. A walk in the park won’t cut it. Exercise with lots of rest between sets might produce a few endorphins. A high intensity training (HIT) workout will produce a lot. A properly designed HIT workout is a series of strength training exercises taken to deep fatigue with very little rest and a lot of attention to safety.

At Austin Strength Trainers and New Orleans Strength trainers  we conduct HIT workouts on MedX equipment.  The equipment’s special medical rehab features make it safer and more accommodating to those with limiting conditions. The trainers insure proper form and breathing, and upon completion of an exercise, they make sure you are immediately on to the next one.

People of any age and any level of fitness can do this.  You build up to it slowly, doing at little more than you are used to handling each workout.  Over time you’ll be at a higher difficulty level and have that endorphin rush.  

Can endorphins really alleviate pain?

From the movie Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.”

From this article, Endorphins: Natural Pain and Stress Fighters:

“In addition to decreased feelings of pain, secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.”

Euphoria, less pain and stress?  Yes, especially after a HIIT workout.  Withhigh intensity interval strength training working all the major muscle groups to a thorough fatigue achieves a state of deep relaxation. The pains just leaves your body, and you feel a sense of relaxation that is, well…euphoric. 

If you are injured it is often best to avoid aggravating that injury by exercising.  Another category is old injuries that produce minor aches and pains. Old injuries will come back to haunt you unless you do something to keep them at bay. In this instance you might find that exercise can alleviate that pain.  The personal trainers at New Orleans Personal Training and Austin Personal Training can help you set up a program that will enable you to begin exercising again, avoid aggravating old injuries, andincrease your quality of life.