People always talk about the rush of endorphins that happens after exercise. But, did you know that not everyone gets a “runner’s” high? USC.edu states, “Some people never get a “runner’s high” from working out. Some people get an endorphin rush from less-active pursuits. There are a lot of things people prefer to do in life due to the release of endorphins.” So, after exercising, some just might simply feel… tired.
We should rather shift our focus to the release of “the less familiar neuromodulator norepinephrine, which may help the brain deal with stress more efficiently. The chemical is thought to play a major role in modulating the action of other, more prevalent neurotransmitters that play a direct role in the stress response” (American Psychological Association, 2023).
More simply, exercise can present the body with an opportunity to practice dealing with stress.
When you engage in strenuous physical activity, your body is able to work on improving its response to stress and anxiety. Rather than giving you a high, exercise can help us learn how to manage your response to stress as opposed to feeling overwhelmed by it (APA, 2023).
So, if you’re someone who does not experience runner’s high, what are your options for physically managing stress? While we can’t specifically say which type is best for you, we can list the pros and cons, and from there, you can choose the most appealing type.
Which type of exercise is best for you?
High-intensity interval training
“A HIIT workout consists of short bouts of intense work lasting anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds, followed immediately by a period of active recovery (like walking or going slower on the treadmill) for the same length or longer. But without proper recovery, intense exercise can lead to elevated levels of cortisol in the bloodstream and heightened symptoms of physical stress, even when exercise is not being performed” (Healthline, 2021).
During HIIT, the brain senses stress, and a cascade of hormones is released, including cortisol. Given this. HIIT can foster feelings of anxiousness for some. It can cause “shutting down,” or just wanting to stop because they find it overly stressful (Healthline, 2021).
If you’re interested in HIIT, it can help to start slowly. For example, you can start by walking at a normal pace, and then power walking or going up a hill. Soon after, you can try more strenuous activities for your HIIT. If you’re someone who does not get a runner’s high, HIIT can give you the chance to increase your heart rate and strength, but it also gives you breaks to look forward during the workout. HIIT is best known for building strength and for its ability to shed calories, carbohydrates, and mass.
As mentioned before, HIIT is a great stress reliever for others, but for some not so much. If high-intensity workouts are very stressful, you could consider aerobic activity which still increases your heart rate. It doesn't do through intensity but by steady rate cardio.
Aerobic activity can range from increasing your heart rate slowly to outright breaking a sweat. Examples of aerobic activities are walking, dancing, or using the elliptical.If you spend time in your garden, weeding, digging, planting, raking, hoeing, for 30 to 45 minutes a day, you can expect to increase your heart rate (American Society for Horticultural Science, 2021). Aerobic activity could also include calming yoga. Aerobic activity is best known for stress reduction, heart health, and lowering health risks.
Moderate Intensity Continuous Training
“MICT stands for medium intensity continuous training and consists of moderate difficulty aerobic exercises like jogging, cycling, or pick-up sports. MICT workouts are normally 30 minutes to an hour” (Fitness together, 2023). It’s similar to aerobic activities except it’s a bit more intense.
One of the largest benefits of MICT is maintaining healthy blood sugar levels (Mattioni 2021). “Because of their low impact, they are also very easy to recover from and thus can be incorporated every single day as part of a healthy exercise regime.” MICT has a pivotal health impact, but it’s easier to be consistent with than HIIT if you do not get runner's high.
While each type of exercise is different, you should choose one that makes you feel the best and aligns with your goals. You can even combine them throughout the week or month!
This is not medical advice, please speak to your physician to choose an exercise plan that's right for you.
Mattioni Maturana, Felipe, et al. “Effectiveness of HIIE versus MICT in Improving Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Health and Disease: A Meta-analysis.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 53,3 (2021): 559-573.