Exercise Euphoria: An Honest & Natural High
Exercise euphoria can really help to improve your quality of life. What is more is that it is very attainable for each and every one of us, regardless of our individual physical ability.
Most of us know that euphoria and addiction are interlinked. Addiction, however, teaches you unhealthy ways of feeling that euphoric high. In recovery, there is a danger that you may start to feel like you are missing out. This is where exercise can really help!
Exercise is good for you. It is great for your physical health and it is also fantastic for your mental health. Regularly exercising will make you happier, less anxious, less tired, more energetic, and, overall, more content with life than you otherwise might be.
As you will no doubt be aware, addiction recovery takes a hard toll on your mental health. Anything that can lead to an improved psychological output is to be celebrated and embraced.
The specific aspect of exercise that I want to focus on today is Euphoria. Exercise euphoria – that burst of happiness, energy, and contentment that comes during and after exercise. Euphoria, I firmly believe, can be one of the best tools in anybody’s toolbox if they are looking to overcome addiction.
Euphoria and the endorphin response
During periods of strenuous physical activity, the brain’s pituitary gland releases endorphins. This can include moments of pain and stress. It can also include orgasm. Therefore, we can comfortably say that the body produces endorphins in response to intense physical activity.
So far, so clear.
The natural stimulation of endorphins will hopefully most often make an appearance hand-in-hand with exercise, exercise that challenges you.
Many think (myself included) that these endorphins lead to what many runners call the ‘runner’s high’. I experience a similar sensation in lifting weights and boxing.
Though endorphin release varies from person to person, meaning that different levels of stimulation will release different levels of endorphins, a pattern emerges. Endorphins give us a clear result. It is euphoria, pure, simple, and unadulterated – and, crucially, a ‘high’ that comes from within.
This exact mechanism is poorly understood by the scientific community. Though it is widely understood that exercise can be a great tool in overcoming depression and anxiety (which is what I primarily use it for), it is unclear how much this has to do with endorphins.
Either way, exercise euphoria is very real, and, I would say, endorphins are very helpful with addiction recovery.
A revealing etymology
Endorphins have an interesting etymology, which I think is pretty revealing in this context. The word ‘endorphin’ is derived from a conjugation of ‘endogenous’, meaning from inside the body, and, crucially, ‘morphine’.
Endorphins are responsible for creating exercise euphoria and are indeed similar chemicals to morphine. They are triggered by the body to diminish feelings of pain, by replacing them with positive energy.
As many of you are recovering addicts, I’m sure you can appreciate the benefits to be gained from creating your own, endogenous source of morphine-like chemicals.
Narcotic pain medications, such as codeine, morphine, and oxycodone mimic the effects of endorphins. This is their purpose; it is how they work. Scale this up to things like heroin and you have a serious issue. Scale it down to naturally occurring endorphins and you are onto something virtuous and healthy.
Endorphins and addiction recovery
Endorphins’ role in addiction recovery is unclear. The evidence for their efficacy is unclear and the jury is very much out. It is likely that they do not represent a clear-cut substitute, crutch, or cure when overcoming addiction.
However, this is a far cry from claiming that they have no role to play. Many of us use exercise as a coping mechanism for mental health concerns, the gauntlet of addiction recovery included.
As above, they help to relieve pain. They induce pleasure and, as the title of this piece suggests, a sense of euphoria. Endorphins are intimately tied to the brain’s reward centre.
This is part of the reason narcotics are so addictive – they are, in the end, the only things able to adequately stimulate your brain’s reward system. The same goes for alcohol, gambling, smoking, or whatever other addiction you can name.
With training, and recovery, endorphins will scratch this itch, to put it mildly, and somewhat under-state my case.
My experience of exercise euphoria
I have trained people who are recovering from addiction – whether from drugs, smoking, food, sex, gambling… the list goes on. I have also trained plenty of people, myself included, through some pretty severe mental health concerns.
My experience is that exercise is one of the single biggest factors that contribute to improved mental health, improved happiness, improved confidence, decreased cravings, decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, and an overall increase in feelings of agency, confidence, and wherewithal.
Essentially, exercise gifts you with plenty of the tools you will surely need as you tread the path of recovery.
Endorphins play a large part in this; exercise euphoria plays a large part in this.
Exercise euphoria & remaining mindful of addiction
Of course, this leads to its own dangers. I would describe myself as mildly addicted to exercise. Many people can become fully addicted to it, either from a steady baseline or as a substitute for another form of addiction. Not exercising can lead to symptoms of withdrawal, such as feeling depressed, anxious, restless, or guilty.
However, I would argue two points here.
Firstly, as addictions go, it’s not such a bad one. It’s far less ruinous and far more physically healthy, than many other types of dependence. However, you should approach it with caution, aiming for moderation. If it gets out of hand, seek medical advice – it will need to be addressed as would any other addiction.
Secondly, exercise is not inherently addictive. There is little fear for most of us that it will become a problem. It is also potent in overcoming addiction. Recovery is often marked with the symptoms laid out above – depression, anxiety, restlessness, guilt, and so forth. Exercise has been proven to overcome these.
Give it a go. It has saved me before. It has saved many of my clients and, it may yet help save you on your road to recovery.
Author - James