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Exercise and "The Endorphin Rush"

Updated on February 28, 2007

Exercise for Happiness

We've known for a long time about the benefits of exercise as a way to enhance our physical condition and combat disease; but it hasn't been until more recently that exercise is being recognized as an element in maintaining mental fitness. Studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which in turn cause us to have what is commonly know as a "natural high" or a "runners high". You may not realize what caused it, but most of us have felt it. Whether we're engaged in a leisurely swim or an adrenaline-charged rock climb, there is that moment when suddenly pain or discomfort drops away and we are filled with a sense of euphoria. We have endorphins to thank for these moments of bliss.

The Psychological Benefits of Exercise

  • Physical activity is increasingly becoming part of the prescription for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Exercise alone is not a cure, but it does have a positive impact.
  • Research has found that regular physical activity appears as effective as psychotherapy for treating mild to moderate depression. Therapists also report that patients who exercise regularly simply feel better and are less likely to overeat or abuse alcohol and drugs.
  • Exercise can reduce anxiety - many studies have come to this conclusion. People who exercise report feeling less stressed or nervous. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise (exercise which requires oxygen, such as a step class, swimming, walking) can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
  • Physical exercise helps to counteract the withdrawal, inactivity and feelings of hopelessness that characterize depression. Studies show that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise (exercise which does not require oxygen, such as weightlifting) have anti-depressive effects.
  • Moods such as tension, fatigue, anger and vigor are all positively affected by exercise.
  • Exercising can improve the way you perceive your physical condition, athletic abilities and body image. Enhanced self-esteem is another benefit.
  • Last, but not least, exercise brings you into contact with other people in a non-clinical, positive environment. For the length of your walk or workout or aqua-fit class, you engage with people who share your interest in that activity.


Endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain, which bind to neuro-receptors to give relief from pain. Discovered in 1975, endorphins are believed to: relieve pain; enhance the immune system; reduce stress; and delay the aging process. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, sending these chemicals throughout the body. Endorphin release varies from person to person; some people will feel an endorphin rush, or second wind, after jogging for 10 minutes. Others will jog for half an hour before their second wind kicks in. You don't have to exercise vigorously to stimulate endorphin release: meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even eating spicy food or breathing deeply - these all cause your body to produce endorphins naturally.

Exercise is a powerful drug. It seduces many with its zen-like state a feeling that was fondly coined the "runner's high" in the 1970s. The lure of exercise is often so strong that it can turn enthusiasts into addicts.

Feel the Rush

The following are several work-out is specifically designed to trigger hormone release in your body. This workout does not target a specific muscle group or area of the body, rather it works the overall body and increase the workout.

1- Treadmill (or other aerobic machine)

Perform a 5-minute warm-up at a comfortable speed. Then, every 3 minutes, increase both the speed and difficulty. Incline the treadmill one increment and increase speed. On a bike, increase the resistance and maintain the same cadence. Do this 4 times so that you perform the 5-minute warm-up followed by 12 more minutes of ever-increasing intensity.

2- Bench press

Grip the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Perform 10 reps with the heaviest weight you can manage. If you still insist on doing full range movements, go ahead. If you've learned the benefits of partial rep, strong range training, you're better off doing all reps that way because it's safer and you can use more weight. More weight = more endorphins. Rest for 15 seconds, then perform a second set to failure.

3- Deadlift

Grip the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Perform 10 reps with the heaviest weight you can manage. Again, rest for 15 seconds, then perform a second set to failure.

4- Leg press (or squats)

If squats are like a religion to you, go ahead and do them. But the fact is that leg presses are far more demanding on the large muscles of the legs. They are also far less prone to cause injury. Load the leg press with the maximum amount of weight you can handle for 10 reps. Rest for 15 seconds, then perform a second set to failure. Rest for another 15 seconds, then perform a third set to failure. And you're done.

Thirty to 60 minutes after you complete this workout, you will feel a mild sense of euphoria and a higher energy level. You will also likely sleep better that night and feel more energetic the next day.


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  • profile image

    sharon 9 years ago

    This article is so informative. I have had chronic pain for years and only when I started to workout I could tell a big difference in feeling better. It hurt the first few weeks to even walk on a treadmill and to lift two pounds for a period of time. I stayed consistent and felt that good pain after a few weeks. Then started to have stomach pains again and stopped working out for a couple of weeks. I now feel pain like I use to. I'm in the process of going back to the gym to start my exercise for happiness. I plan on working out more continuously and eating better. Rest on top of sleep is also very helpful for healing. This is also a very inspiring article. Please check out my site, Noevir has great vitamins with herbs to nourish our bodies and give it what it needs. I encourage you to read about the nutritionals. I feel more energized when taking Noevir's inner care.

  • Fat Loss Secret profile image

    Fat Loss Secret 9 years ago from San Francisdo

    Great article. I think exercise is important for maintaining both physical and mental health. I feel most alive after moderately strenous workout.

  • 2patricias profile image

    2patricias 9 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

    All true. Exercise is so important. My usual exercise is Pilates but I've been using a rebounder recently which is kind on the joints but a great cardio workout you can   do indoors. Love the feeling of getting a bit breathless.

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    MariJoy 8 years ago

    Gosh, I have an after-exercise rush right regime is 60 minutes of alternating elliptical and ski machines on most truly becomes a "religion" if you do it as a consistent lifestyle - just ask Jack LaLanne!!

  • profile image

    Thinkis 8 years ago

    There are some flaws with this article.While there are such things as endorphin "rushes" from exercise, the article fails to note that "runner's high", specifically from running, is not a result of endorphins, but rather endocannabinoids. Also, the majority of serious weight lifters would say that squats are superior to the leg press. Why? The leg press is a machine, it supports some of the weight for you. Squatting involves not only the entire body, but balance and works out muscles required in stabilizing the weight.

  • profile image

    wolfash 7 years ago

    Great piece of information....I m enlightened.I will share this info around my group.

  • profile image

    Marie Elliott 7 years ago

    When I was a teenager I ran a few miles a day and went to

    swimming practice early in the evening. I would go to bed around 10 pm in the evening and had no trouble sleeping. When I turned 25 I developed psychosis and depression. I take several psychiatric medications. If I do any kind of

    exercise such as walking on a treadmill, even if I walk in the morning, I still feel "high" and energized and can't fall asleep until about midnight. I heard that honey and warm milk can help you get drowsy so I'll take that and eventually fall asleep. The only thing I do now is yoga which is very relaxing. Yoga does not pump me up but mellows me.

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    jo 7 years ago

    Today was the 1st day in my life that I felt the high from working out. like a rush.. tingling in my body and a sense of a high feeling tune with my body. I am into the 3rd week of moderate exercising every day I push my self further. I am working with stair stepping.. 4,000 steps in 20 minutes.. change leading leg and do 4000 steps again. changing lead leg up and down the step. Amazing feeling! I am 44 years old.. and glad to be able to have such a sensation. AMAZING!

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    Janice 7 years ago

    Love this article. I feel so high after teaching my Zumba Contra Costa class that after I return home, I'm laughing for the rest of the evening.


    Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill

  • Katelyn Weel profile image

    Katelyn Weel 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Excellent article! I've always loved the workout bliss...makes it all worthwhile :)

  • profile image

    Becky Fox 7 years ago

    Great article. I was doing some research on endorphin release for exercise. This was definitely handy!

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    Sarah  7 years ago

    this article is great it gave me all the information i needed to finish an essay for school and more this shoukd help me personaly as well

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    Conga Carl 7 years ago

    There is evidence that weight training (or any resistance-based exercise as opposed to cardio) has absolutely no effect on endorphin release. The writer should have done his/her fact checking. Three out of four of the recommended exercises probably do not induce any endorphin release.

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    Kymber 7 years ago

    Would anyone know why I don't get this "high" after working out. I do 30-60 minutes at Curves, and cardio at home, I am always worn out and tired after. I don't get this high that I have always heard about!? Any ideas?

  • profile image

    Rahil 7 years ago

    Try to enjoy your work out even if it's 15 mins. It's not necessary that you should work out for 30 - 60 mins. If you take your work out as a punishment you won't feel that "high". It's all about mind games. I can feel that high most of the times after taking a shower (after a killer work out)

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    Hersh 6 years ago

    I follow my personalized exercise regime. 4.5 mins of jogging followed by 30 seconds of quick sprinting. I manage to complete 3 such cycles with moderate ease. At the end of the 4th cycle I am completely down and out. That's when I simply lie down on the beach.(I stay close to the waterfront) and relax. that's my moment of nirvana. I'm thinking about nothing at all, just focused in the present trying to catch my breath and easing out the pain of muscles. The volume of the rest of my life's just turned down to zero. Its awesome fun!

  • profile image

    MariJoy 6 years ago

    Dropped the pill bottle and picked up the ski poles (in my case a ski machine, but still..)

    Haven't felt better about myself in a LOONG time...your page confirms what I know, for that I am grateful.

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    Anonymous 6 years ago

    I recently started my own regiment at home with a weight machine and treadmill. The pit of despair I sat in for years has been melting away with every workout.

  • profile image

    Sylvia 6 years ago

    This is great information. Im a 48 year old grandma. lovin' life !!!!!!!!!

  • profile image

    ali 6 years ago

    I started getting it a few weeks ago. i have been going to the gym about 6 months. i did swimming would do high intensity deep water 60 min then i would do laps got up to 64 laps one mile 3-4 times a week no endorphine.. i started zumba at 3 months, 5 times a week, and have got much more endurance and stamina. i started getting the rush. i would say my workout is strong-very strong i think you really have push yourself for awhile. if you wonder hum have i ever had one. you proabably havn't.

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    Cheryl 6 years ago

    I just began to workout after a recent bout with seasonal depression, (From summer to fall). I joined a gym and based on my assessment, I am 40% body fat. I could have allowed this information to depress me more however, I used it to my advantage. It fueled my desire to get fit for once and for all...mentally and physically. After just two workouts, 50-60 mins aerobic activity, I felt so much better! This article clarified this feeling and explains why I feel like a million dollars.

  • profile image

    EMT 6 years ago

    If I am not mistaken, endorphins are do not appear to be the source of the "runners high" as THINKIS suggested in the attached thread 23 months ago,. You can give IM Narcan to an exercised athlete feeling the "runners high/euphoria" and NOT change their "felling"....If endorphin were the root of the runner's "high" there would be an immediate loss of the "high" folloing IM Narcan.....

  • profile image

    Rae 6 years ago

    Very helpful article. I'm thinking this will give me a boost in overcoming the winter blues.

  • profile image

    ki joko bodo 6 years ago

    nice n useful article! it explains why i do feel so relax after do an exercise

  • profile image

    Elisheva 6 years ago

    I exercise regularly. I enjoy walking and dancing but notice a great change in my mood and pain threshold when I swim. The effect is not immediate either. Eating too much food after exercise also seems to decrease the high I get. I am like a different person. Today I walked 1-1/2 hours, danced a half hour and swam 35 minutes. After my shower the new mood appeared. My husband feels the same thing. Nothing seems to have the same effect as a swim. We are swimming in cool Sea water: which seems to heighten the effects.

  • David 470 profile image

    David 470 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, United States

    Great hub here. I often feel great after bench pressing flat+incline and doing curls. Its hard to describe afterwards.

    I go from feeling like crap when I wake up, but workout later and feel good.

  • profile image

    Blowbags 6 years ago

    *insert generic gym bro comment telling you squats are better for a lot of reasons which you surely already know (that's why they are used... seems pretty clear to most people) and partial bench roms involve less CNS and are essentially more isolation than the amount of the body a full heel driven bench hits*

    I'd link quotes from rippetoe and kilgore - Bill star etc but im a gym bro, I just say things as facts and run away rather than listen to answers or provide proof.

  • profile image

    Cosmos 6 years ago

    Very informative article. I get a big endorphin rush by cycling. I start to feel it after 15 - 20 mins and usually ride for 60 - 70 mins. Afterwards I feel like a million bucks. I also do other exercises and sports but nothing gives me the lift like cycling. In addition a lot of my aches and pains go away so I'm addicted to riding my bike.

  • profile image

    Greg Byers 5 years ago

    Great exercise hub! Great information.

  • profile image

    al kabo0m 5 years ago

    i used to get it when i went to the gymn, but not very often even though i worked out really hard. i started cycling last year , i used to get the feeling at 4-6 miles, now its at about 15-25miles and the feeling is driving me to push even harder, but the funny thing is i cycled on sunday 32 miles and felt great. the next day i felt shattered, but i had to do my housework. i started doing my hoovering then bam i got the same feeling when i was cycling the day before. i am fast becoming a endo addict lol

  • profile image

    bluebonbon 5 years ago

    I am 63 years old, overweight and although I work daily, I was not getting enough of the right kind of exercise. Then they started a zumba class right across the street from my grooming shop. I finally decided to go(a friend told me it would be ok if I had to sit and just move my arms) After just 2 weeks of Zumba, my energy level is through the roof, my weight went down 4 lbs., and the most amazing thing has happened, people keep telling me I look happier or in a better mood. Oh, and the strangest thing of all is my cravings for food just disappeared. I eat good healthy choices, dumped the fast food habit. Hey, when you feel good, and get the glow from exercising, you just don't want to ruin it by eating something with more calories then you just burned.

  • profile image

    indran moodley 5 years ago

    I have trouble sleeping after a good workout

  • profile image

    Geordy 5 years ago

    Well detailed article. It is known amongst bodybuilders that the most significant endorphin rush comes from compound exercises rather than isolation exercises (WORKING 1 SINGLE MUSCLE) and the endorphin rush can be compared to that expereinced by eating hot peppers. Here is a similar article

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    Zach 5 years ago

    Just sayin, full range (or at least 3/4 rep) bench press is better because it provides a "pre stretch" for the chest, which recruits more muscle fibers to be recruited therefore promoting more muscle growth. Squats are infinitely better than leg press because squats, although not magical, helpt to develop your entire body. They produce a massive hormone response and involve much more hamstring and glute work than a leg press. Just saying :)

  • profile image

    Sam 5 years ago

    Everything is great about this article except for the lttle tidbit about leg press. Squats are by far better for your legs than doing the leg press. Leg presses focus heavily on the quads and glutes. Squats focus on those groups PLUS your hamstrings and core. This prevents muscle imbalances and makes your whole body stronger and move better rather than just having well defined quads from doing the leg press. As long as you do squats correctly, going parallel and the like, then you will be injury free and feel great. If you're wondering how to do squats correctly without ruining your legs than google goblet squats and it will show you how to squat correctly.

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    vik 5 years ago

    This article is inaccurate: "Endorphins, however, are composed of relatively large molecules, “which are unable to pass the blood-brain barrier,” said Matthew Hill, a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University in New York. Finding endorphins in the bloodstream after exercise could not, in other words, constitute proof that the substance was having an effect on the mind. So researchers started to look for other candidates to help explain runner’s high. Now an emerging field of neuroscience indicates that an altogether-different neurochemical system within the body and brain, the endocannabinoid system, may be more responsible for that feeling."

    - NY Times, February 16, 2011,

    "Phys Ed: What Really Causes Runner’s High?"


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    mike 5 years ago

    this is all right as far as i can tell. i just experienced it first hand not 5 minutes ago using body weight exercises in a circuit training self made program.

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    Jenny 5 years ago

    I am getting too high after aerobic or swimming. But I feel happy for the rest of the day and the next day I NEED to exercise again. huh.....

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    LindaA.Edetsberger 5 years ago

    You can not compare the benefits of a positive mind body

    response like exercise. There are so many forms of exercise. As long as you participate in some form of exercise for 30 minutes a day you will feel the endorphin effect. A lot of people after an extended period

    of time might be able to go off thiet medication with a doctor's approval. Exercise is the secret to positive health.

  • profile image

    Charlotte C 5 years ago

    This article will help so many people that sadly suffer under depression and will give them an informative insight on exercise v depression. Thank you

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    Mike 4 years ago

    I just played racquetball for the first time in almost 8 months. I am 65 with a couple of hips that differing problems, but have been feeling pretty good lately. Of course Celebrex helps and Salon Pas pads. But I am having the best endorphn rush in years. May not go full boar with future aches and all, but I will push those endorphn's. Really nice to have it back. Probablly had em in the past, but was as strong as this one. Hail a natural high.

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