One of the great mysteries of running is the elusive runner’s high – some runners never seem to experience it while others report experiencing the fabled euphoria regularly. So is it true? Can any runner experience bliss while out on their runs? Is runner’s high real?
Science seems to back up the existence of the phenomenon, but the jury is out about where in the body it originates. Here’s what we know.
What does it feel like and when could you feel it?
A runner’s high is usually identified as a euphoria, a sense of timelessness experienced while running. The effect of it typically reduces pain and discomfort.
You’re most likely to experience a runner’s high while cruising through any exercise that takes a long time and is rhythmic in nature. Marathons and other longer distance runs are good examples of that. Some people report similar experiences while swimming or cycling long distances, too. The key seems to be to keep the tempo of the workout steady. Pushing too hard and straining your body seems to reduce the likelihood of experiencing the high.
Where does it come from?
Scientists are still trying to locate the cause of runner’s high. There are a couple of theories that centre around the release of the hormones called endorphins, and endocannabinoids.
This is the most commonly attributed cause of the runner’s high sensation. Endorphins are the feel good hormone. When the body is asked to sustain longer durations of exercise (again, without overstraining), the brain’s limbic and pre-frontal areas produce huge amounts the hormone. Endorphins help you feel good, and they reduce feelings of pain.
Interestingly, a study measured runner’s experiences while having endorphin receptors blocked. some of them still experienced the high, leading researchers to speculate that neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin may also play a role.
Endocannabinoids are made naturally by the body. They promote feelings of calmness, and are stimulated as a response to stress (rather than pain, like endorphins). These can be produced by almost every cell in the body, not just in the brain. More studies need to be conducted on it’s role in creating a runner’s high, but preliminary investigations are showing results.
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