Accelerate the exercise high
December 11, 2005 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I want to maximize endorphins and minimize injury

I really enjoy exercise induced endorphins, and I’m more than happy to work for ‘em, but they tend to stay put until my exertion puts me at a high risk of injury, or kicks my ass to the point where I need to recover for a few days.

I’m curious if there are specific activities that are more endorphin friendly, or perhaps foods/ other (safe) substances that noticeably impact their production and release. I want to get the most out of my exercise buzz.
posted by yorick to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)
Swimming is some of the hardest yet safest exercise.
posted by scarabic at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2005

I second swimming, especially if the water's a little cold. Also, rowing machines can really kick your ass without causing too much hurt later on, as long as you don't overextend your knees.
posted by footnote at 2:15 PM on December 11, 2005

Forbes had a piece awhile ago on the 10 healthiest sports, and squash came in #1. The full list:

1. Squash
2T. Rowing
2T. Rock Climbing
4. Swimming
5. Cross-Country Skiing
6. Basketball
7. Cycling
8. Running
9. Modern Pentathlon (good luck with that one if you're on a budget)
10. Boxing

Injury risk is one of the categories, so you may want to avoid basketball in favor of rowing or swimming. I play squash and if you can find a court in your area, it's fantastic.
posted by MarkAnd at 2:47 PM on December 11, 2005

The "runner's high" effect doesn't seem to kick in (for me, at least) until after an hour or more of continuous effort. About the only exercise I enjoy for an hour or more is bicycling, which is pretty low stress on joints. You shouldn't have to worry about injuries if you have a safe place to ride.
posted by zanni at 2:53 PM on December 11, 2005

Swimming and cycling.

By the way, the current thinking is, I believe, that endogenous cannabinoids are implicated in the "runner's high," rather than endorphins.
posted by killdevil at 2:59 PM on December 11, 2005

Spinning. (indoor group stationary bicycling class.)

I once did an "Everest ride" (a special three hour long ride) and was "high" for a day or so.

I'm a forty-seven year old overweight female, and no injuries-I have been doing this class for two years now. Losing weight, gaining strength and endurance, and yes, gaining endorphic highs. What more could you ask for?
posted by konolia at 3:21 PM on December 11, 2005

I see you're in Michigan - how about snowshoeing?
posted by footnote at 4:54 PM on December 11, 2005

Spanking? Spanking does release endorphins. It's probably fairly low-injury, all things considered.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:22 PM on December 11, 2005

rowing machines can really kick your ass without causing too much hurt later on

This is so true. But please please have someone at your fitness center show you how to row properly or you will be in for a world of hurt and/or your workout will not be as good as it should be.

If you have the option, use a real erg like the Concept II, not something you can buy on TV. This manufacturer also has some good basics on technique and active forums and specialized workouts.

(Squash is a lot of fun and definitely exhilirating. Some important differences between it and rowing are team v. single sport, how easy it is to listen to music while you work out, and what facilities are near you.)
posted by whatzit at 5:46 PM on December 11, 2005

Definitely swimming.

The Forbes link was interesting, but the injury ratings are somewhat out of whack. Rockclimbing can be as safe as you make it, but is still dangerous enough that has a forum devoted to discussion of injuries and accidents. Overuse injuries abound. I don't know where they play basketball but it ain't my games if they give it a low risk of injury. That's one game I had to stop, because I just can't afford the downtime anymore.
posted by Manjusri at 6:57 PM on December 11, 2005

If you choose to swim, please have someone look at your stroke. If you do it correctly, it can be very low impact. However, like any other repetitive activity, doing it wrong can lead to injury. Plenty of swimmers wind up needing new shoulders. Also, google rotator cuff strengthening and do the exercises.

zanni: The "runner's high" effect doesn't seem to kick in (for me, at least) until after an hour or more of continuous effort.

This is probably because you aren't doing interval work. Slowing down and speeding up again is better exercise, kicks your ass more, and gives you the high. It's been explained to me that this is because your body adapts to any stress you put on it, so by just going continuously, you slowly push out the amount of time you have to be exercising before stress is met. Anecdotally, having gone from just swimming straight laps to interval training, the latter has been much better in every way.

Fortunately, most organized swimming workouts are built around interval training. Swimming also keeps you looking young. If you are interested, U.S. Masters Swimming is a good place to start.

If you decide you want to more about it, please feel free to email me, because I am so addicted now.
posted by dame at 7:13 PM on December 11, 2005

Also, that Forbes article repeats the common assertion that swimming won't burn as many calories. This is untrue and I could explain the reasoning and mistakes that lead to it, but I think that's going beyond the scope of your question.
posted by dame at 7:25 PM on December 11, 2005

Also, that Forbes article repeats the common assertion that swimming won't burn as many calories.
I always understood it not to be so much a caloritic problem, so much as it is a fat burning problem, due in part to your body usually doesn't want to burn it's insulation (fat) while in water because the water is usually cool.

Anyways, I vote for rock climbing. I'm talking hardcore-style with sweet dynos (jumps) and hard grabs. When I get on a role of a hard route, hott-damn if I don't get a high.
posted by jmd82 at 8:43 PM on December 11, 2005

Spanking, seconded. Tattoos, definitely--a palpable physical rush. Though you run out of skin eventually, don't you?
posted by ibeji at 9:30 PM on December 11, 2005

I disagree that cycling meets your needs. Cycling can be quite safe if you ride slowly, but then it would not fit the definition of excercise unless you're very weak to begin with.

For cycling to challenge you physically, you have to sustain average speeds well above 30 km/h. Once you're doing that regularly, you will hit the deck sooner or later. Maybe you'll spill and get away with road rash, or maybe you'll break your wrist or collarbone.

That said, I have never let the risk of crashing keep me off the bike. I've been racing for 10 years as a Cat 3 roadie and I have had my share of incidents, but to me (and most active people I know) a broken bone once every few years is quite acceptable for the sake of a sport that I love. And I don't know anyone in my extended circle who has suffered a serious, permanent injury in cycling.
posted by randomstriker at 10:53 PM on December 11, 2005

Cross country skiing is only safe if you stay on level ground in an area with no moose, otherwise it's up there with running the bulls. And don't tie your dog to your waist either, at least not till you master skating.
posted by fshgrl at 10:55 PM on December 11, 2005

Tangentially - I don't think endocannabinoids explain all of the "runner's high" feeling. I can believe it's the cause of the spacey, extremely mellow feeling I get after intense 1+ hour workouts. There's a different feeling, though, that comes much sooner with reasonably intense cardio exercise that seems a lot more endorphin-like. At least, I would compare it to how I've felt after injuries or piercings, which are definitely endorphin and/or adrenaline related.

All that being said, the best exercise to give you happy-exercise-feelings is one where you can do intervals for at least a half hour. You probably won't get much doing 20 minutes of anything, but if you choose an exercise where you can last for 40-60 minutes you're on your way to bliss-land. You might try training with a heartrate meter. Target the upper edge of your aerobic-training heartrate zone during the intense parts of your workout.
posted by rhiannon at 1:54 AM on December 12, 2005

randomstriker: I disagree that cycling at lower speeds than racing or pro-like training isn't exercise or is only if you're weak.

You don't have to go as fast as racers for it to be exercise, and for it to be fun. And you don't need a proper racing bike either. It's how long you take, how varied the speed is. Of course if you go too slow it's pointless, but assuming an averagely moderate pace, and constant cycling, if you're on the bike for at least an hour, then you can definitely feel the aerobic and endorphin effect.

Of course you have to be careful on ordinary roads, at any speed.
posted by funambulist at 7:24 AM on December 12, 2005

An hour on my bike, average speed 20mph has both an aerobic and endophin effect and it's easy on the joints.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2005

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