Can You Get High from Exercise?

The Runner's High and Related Risks

Exercise is a healthy behavior, and regular exercise can make you feel good. The buzz you get from running or working out is real, and is related to feel good chemicals released when you exercise. It can be a healthy way to get high, but life many other behaviors involving euphoria, it can become addictive if it is done excessively.

The Runner's High

The euphoria experienced during and after exercise is a well recognized phenomenon, sometimes referred to as "the runner's high."  It is caused by chemical changes in the brain and body during exercise, that have a positive effect on mood.

  These changes create a similar experience to that experienced from opioid drugs, such as heroin and some painkillers.

For most people, exercise is healthy, and most of us do not take enough exercise.  Experiencing pleasure during and after exercise does not make it unhealthy, and can be a great way to motivate yourself to take more exercise.  The chemicals which are naturally released in the body during exercise are not harmful, and are a healthy way to feel good.

Exercise Addiction

For a small minority of people, exercise can become addictive to the point where it becomes a problem in itself.  As with other behavioral addictions, problems can develop when the behavior, in this case exercise, is prioritized over other important areas of your life, like running a household, socializing, relationships, and work.  When people become addicted to exercise, these other areas of life can be neglected, or interfered with when an addictive behavior is repeatedly put before other things.

Read more about Exercise Addiction

Health Problems

Exercise addiction can also lead to physical health problems.  Although exercise is healthy for most people, it is possible to overdo it.  Taking a lot of exercise can require more nutrition to maintain the behavior, and although for many people exercise is important for weight loss, this has to be balanced against the need for protein, vitamins and minerals to repair the body and replace what the body loses during exercise.

  At the most basic level, replacing water and minerals lost through exercise is important to prevent dehydration, but drinking too much water too quickly can lead to a serious condition called water intoxication or hyponatremia.

Some people with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa use exercise to take weight loss too far.  For them, exercise is not healthy, as the body may not have excess fat to fuel the exercise, leading to damage to the muscles and organs.  For some, exercise can be a hidden form of purging, used to compensate for binge eating, which is, in itself, an unhealthy behavior.

Another health problem that can occur with too much exercise is related to injuries.  For those addicted to the runner's high, the need for euphoria is more important to the person than staying healthy, so they will continue to exercise, even when injured or sick, despite the fact that it can do them more damage.

Talk to your doctor for advice on how much and what kind of exercise is healthy for you, or if you are concerned about exercise addiction.


Boecker H; Sprenger T; Spilker ME; Henriksen G; Koppenhoefer M; Wagner KJ; Valet M; Berthele A; Tolle TR, "The runner's high: opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain." Cerebral Cortex 18 (11), 2523-31.2008.

Egorov, A.Y. and Szabo, A. "The exercise paradox: An interactional model for a clearer conceptualization of exercise addiction." Journal of Behavioral Addictions 2 (4), 199-208. 2013.

Lynch, W.J., Peterson, A.B., Sanchez, V., Abel, A., ad  Smith, M.A. "Exercise  as  a  novel  treatment  for  drug  addiction:  A  neurobiological and  stage-dependent  hypothesis." Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 37, 1622-1644. 2013.

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