Runner's High and enjoyment of exercise

Does anyone know of any studies that investigate the enjoyment of exercise and the correstponding fitness of subjects? It seems to me that many “exercise people” get some kind of runners high or an overall physical enjoyment out of exercising. Consequently, many of these people are very active and fit overall.

I, and many others, do not seem to benefit from any sort of physical enjoyment out of exercise at all. I did a decent amount of strength training in high school and I started to run a while before I injured my knee. Neither time did I experience any enjoyment in the exercise besides maybe an intellectual accomplishment that I pushed myself beyond where I was 2 weeks earlier.

I think “fitness people” look at the “slobs” and say to themselves, “If I could just get them out there and active, they would see how great it feels!” Maybe, maybe not?

Is anyone familiar with more concrete information on this?

For anybody who abhors exercise, I advise them not to do it. The grief outweighs the benefit. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m on the far other side. For me, much of life is just waiting until the next opportunity to put out energy, which is as soon as I can muster a modest recovery from the last outing. I long ago lost the concept of a high after a long run. The reason is that I’m always high on some form of exercise. Age has forced me to pace myself a bit to avoid injuries, but it has resulted in more total exercise. And yet, if there is a sit-down project needed, I’m perfectly content to spend a full day without getting up from the work until complete.

So in the end, I think the “high” may require a strong component of the addictive personality to go along.

If my body is not sore (and same goes for my wife), I am miserable. Other people complain about having to go to the gym, and we complain about anything that stops us.

We are fitness nuts by every definition of the term.

It feels like a compulsion. Extreme irritability sets in if there is even a chance gym time or a run is in jeopardy. My wife is worse.

There are chemicals that are released during exercise, and I am sure that they play a role. I don’t know of studies, but the other fitness nuts we know are pretty much excited to work out and you do not want to be near them if they can’t.


Nothing scientific to add, but I’m interested as well. I think I’ve experienced a true “runner’s high” once in my life, when I was about six years old. I originally just started as a little jog to get some fresh air, but wound up experiencing a euphoric feeling and an overwhelming urge to just keep running. I wound up running probably a solid couple miles. It was an odd sensation, even at that age. It never recurred for me, partly because asthma started hitting me shortly after and kept me from enjoying exercise more than brief sprints. It was significant enough to stay with me, more than twenty years later.

What I’d like to know, and I think what the OP is asking, is if if there are indeed two “camps”, as it were, of people. Some people swear that exercise feels GREAT, and I’ve…never, ever had that experience. After a few weeks of forcing myself to work out, it…still doesn’t feel good. And honestly, I’ve never made it past 4 weeks.

“Fit” people refuse to believe me on this. Got into an argument about it just last week, actually. The most that anyone has been willing to deign me is that “it doesn’t feel good to you because you haven’t stuck with it long enough.”

Is this true? Several of you have already responded in this thread, care to check back in and tell me: did exercise ALWAYS feel good to you? Or did you feel like crap the first weeks or months and gain the endorphin rush good feeling thing later?

My entirely unscientific WAG is that there are indeed “exercise people” and “not exercise people”, and that no matter how long I force myself, exercise is never going to feel good. Which, honestly, is okay - brushing my teeth doesn’t feel particularly good, either, but I do it. Constantly hearing how good it’s supposed to be making me feel, though, simply discourages me. I feel like I’m doing it wrong, and yes, of course it makes it harder to stick with it.

I, too, have tried to find that euphoria, but have not been able to. I’ve kept up with exercise for eight months, running and other stuff, five days a week, rain or shine. I managed to get myself to about a six minute mile, which I think is decent, especailly considering I started at thirteen. However, I hated every minute. Hated, hated, hated every minute. I ran for exactly forty minutes. Not. One. Second. More. Because I would lose the will. A bit of a shame, but I think there is at the least a continuuum of enjoyment of exercise that I am on the bad end of.

I’m close to this. I become relatively irritable if I miss my daily run. It’s a huge stress relief for me among other things.

Not every run is fun though. I have plenty of bad runs. Some days just suck. Most days are mediocre. Pushing new distances or new speeds isn’t euphoria (at the time). MOST runs aren’t euphoria.

I’ve had thoughts during races of all distances 5K to 50 miles (and I’m no speed demon) that this is the stupid thing I’ve ever done in my life. Based on reading race reports, LOTS of people feel that way now and again. Personally, I love foul weather running. Snow storm, nor’easter, 3" of mud? I’m in. Let’s go!

But… some days are just so glorious. To be able to run for 10, 15, 20, 30 miles through the woods, in the air, effortlessly… it’s just fantastic.

Maybe it’s like gambling. All those losses are forgotten when you get the big score and you keep going back trying to replicate it. It may take years, but it’s worth it when you feel it.

My personal opinion is that the people who aren’t enjoying it (whatever “it” is) are doing it wrong :slight_smile: If you run the same route every day, the same distance, the same speed, etc. No wonder it sucks. Change it up! I also notice most folks run way too fast for their ability. Every run isn’t a race. I do my share of speed work but most runs are relatively easy. (There are different theories on this of course.) I finish and feel I could keep going.

Have a goal. Sign up for a race. Push your limits. Never done a marathon? Find one. Train for it. Finish it. Run faster. Run further. Ultrarunning events start at 50K (31 miles) and go up to 100 miles+. You’d be amazed at the people doing those. (And the views… check out the these photos from the Hardrock 100 miler. I am doing everything in my power to build up to run that. Jaw dropping. It may take me another 10 years. I don’t care.)

If you don’t enjoy running try something else. Swimming (not my thing, though I do it the wrong way per my own definition above!). Hiking. Roller derby. Frisbee Golf. Make it a habit. Find a friend! I’ve gotten so wrapped up on conversations on runs that I’ve forgotten entire hours of the run. No idea I was even doing it.

I hadn’t ever done enough exercise to feel it until I was about thirty, when I ran a 10K- that 7.4 miles left me totally intoxicated, and I replicated it a few times. I drove, and I should NOT have been driving for at least an hour afterwards. It was easily more powerful of an intoxication than that provided by several shots of alcohol.

Unfortunately, I injured myself not long after (not by running) and haven’t ever gotten back there.

I think you’re right, sort of. In some people it never feels good, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make yourself do it regularly anyway. Unlike you, I’ve stuck with exercising for four and a half years, and it has never felt good. Not once. A lot of the time I have to bargain with myself to stay the course (“just five more minutes. I can do that.” and once I have “see? I did it. five more, and I’m done”) to get through things. At very best exercise goes by without me constantly checking to see how long it’s been so far.

My problem isn’t that it feels bad, since I’ve never had any problem forcing myself to work through pain, but that it’s boring and I just want it to be over with so I can do something else. So, I continue to exercise because I like the fact that I’m fitter than a lot of women my age, because it helps me maintain my weight despite having a sweet tooth, and because it’s supposed to help ward off things like diabetes and cancer which several of my older relatives have suffered from, not because I actually feel any pleasure in exercise.

When I first decided to get in shape, after doing almost nothing from age 14 to 25, it took months for it to start to feel good. I felt the same as you; figured I was just “broken” and it was never going to feel good to me. You just have to push through and stick with it. You’re not going to want to hear this, but SO. MUCH. of it is attitude. You just have to find your reason for exercising and think about how awesome it is that you’re achieving it.

I lift weights almost daily, at least 5 times a week. My workouts go anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.
Some days I have crappy workouts, other days I have great workouts. I feel intoxicated when I finish a particularly difficult set. I know that I’m feeling oxygen deprivation and the feeling of blood flow returning to my brain after I finish the set.

When I finish my lifting with a half hour of cardio, I feel good all day long. a bit euphoric, yes. I also feel better about myself, more confident and sure of my abilities in other areas.

No wonder you felt totally intoxicated. The 10K ended 1.2 miles previously. (Actually a 10K is 6.222 miles, approximately.)

I’ve been running for 35 years and used to do marathons (32 to my credit), one ultramarathon (50-miler) and many triathlons and duathlons, but the average person need not, and I think should not, do any marathons. Young people nowadays think marathons are the thing to do. They join Leukemia Team in Training with absolutely no experience in running and plan to do a marathon in a few months. You have to build up the base first. Do a lot of shorter races. Run for at least a year (stopping to eat and sleep :)). But this is something I do not encourage.

When I first started running, I did experience what might be termed a runner’s high: the feeling that I could run forever. (Didn’t last long.) Haven’t felt like that in decades. I do like the feeling, however, after completing a long run. One of my most memorable and enjoyable runs was a run in a Peoria, Il park after a snowfall with zero degrees temperature. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the wind was not blowing. Beautiful. Memories that last a lifetime.

Maybe this is related, but I also feel happy (a noticeable mood boost), if I am mildly hungry.

I believe that searching for the biological answer alone is part of the problem.

I am convinced that a huge component is how we are ‘brainwashed’ over the years to accept certain things about life, via all the exposure to ads, shows, and other life experiences. Just as we age and grow old according to some script fed to us by society, we grow up to perceive exercise, exertion and physical stress according to some script we have in our minds.

Exercise, working out and physical labor are these unpleasant, dangerous mountains we must climb, and they are riddled with unpleasant challenges, and you are bound to fail and you can become one of the few people who – if you buy this program and stick to it – can overcome (for a period of time) all the unpleasant things about exercise, nutrition, etc. Oh, and there is an end to this temporary plan you will go on. You can do it! Overcome!

Also, when in mild pain: Grab Advil!! Get an MRI!! Complain!! Talk about it. Go to bed with the TV on and fall asleep to infomercials that tell you exercising this way for 10 minutes will get you the same abs the steroided-up model guy has, or the scrawny legs of the 17-year old girl who is on the eliptical machine and not sweating and looks ready for a photo shoot.

There is something wrong in Western Culture if you are hungry. OMG, you NEED 100% of the USRDA of vitamin R!!! EAT NOW! OMG, your legs are sore, and you have a mild headache = Take something! Something is wrong!

Being mildly hungry and a little sore/tired here and there = success. Unfortunately, this runs counter to everything you’ve ever been exposed to and works against the plethora of food and drugs and shows that follow you everywhere you go.

You odds of feeling great after working out = low. 90% of this issue is half mental. :wink:


The “Runner’s High” is a baldfaced lie, IMHO.

I have run thousands of miles over the years and have never felt any kind of “Runner’s High”

I have felt exhausted, sore, nauseous, energetic, short-of-breath, full of vigor, hot, cold, and many other things while on runs of varying lengths, but I have never felt high.

I feel cheated.

Run harder.


I am always perplexed when “enjoying excercise” is described as the same thing as “enjoying running” or “enjoying using the elliptical at the gym.”

I have never once enjoyed running or the gym. I enjoy lots of different types of intense physical exercise.

I never felt a “high” but a typical run would flow, the felt effort did not match how hard I might actually be running.

The best runs were several races where I ran all-out, set PRs yet did not really feel the effort. I could feel it in a detached way, I knew I was at my limit but somehow the pain was at a detached level.

Maybe the definition needs to be improved.

Running is fun because it feels so good to stop.


When I am driving home after a long run along the canal, I feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction at having completed the run, and a certain enjoyment of the deep exhaustion.