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Runners High: Learn The Science Behind Why

Updated: Aug 27, 2023




Lace-up your shoes, hit the pavement, and let's talk about the science behind the "runner's high." That elusive feeling of euphoria that many runners experience after a long run. But what exactly causes it, and how can we harness it to improve our running experience? Let's discover the science behind the "runner's high" and find out.


What Is Runners High?


The "runner's high" is a sensation of euphoria, calmness, and reduced anxiety that some runners experience during or after a long run. It's been described as a feeling of being "in the zone," or "floating" on air. It's a highly sought-after experience for many runners and is often cited as one of the reasons why people continue to run despite the physical and mental challenges that can come with the sport.


What Causes Runner High?


The answer lies in the complex interplay of hormones, neurotransmitters, and endocannabinoids that are released during prolonged exercise. Let's take a closer look at each of these components and how they contribute to the runner's high.


Endorphins


Endorphins are often cited as the primary cause of the runner's high. Endorphins are a group of hormones that are released by the pituitary gland during prolonged exercise. They bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, which are responsible for blocking pain signals and creating a sense of euphoria.


Endorphins are known to create a sense of well-being, reduce pain, and promote relaxation, all common experiences of the runner's high.


However, recent research has suggested that endorphins alone may not be the sole cause of the runner's high. In fact, scientists have identified a class of chemicals known as endocannabinoids, which play a significant role in creating the sensation of euphoria and relaxation that runners experience.


Endocannabinoids


Endocannabinoids are chemicals that are produced by the body and bind to the same receptors in the brain that are targeted by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These chemicals are known to have a range of effects on the body, including pain relief, reduced anxiety, and improved mood.


Endocannabinoids are released during prolonged exercise, and research has shown that they play a significant role in creating the sensation of a runner's high.


In addition to endorphins and endocannabinoids, there are several other hormones and neurotransmitters that are released during exercise that contribute to the runner's high.


Dopamine


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter known to play a significant role in the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. It's released during exercise and is thought to contribute to the feeling of euphoria that runners experience.


Serotonin


Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that is released during exercise and has been shown to have a significant impact on mood and anxiety levels. Studies have suggested that increased levels of serotonin can lead to reduced levels of anxiety and depression, which are both common experiences of the runner's high.


The Science Behind Runners High


There are also a few other factors that can contribute to the runner's high. For example, the rhythmic motion of running can be meditative and create a sense of calmness and relaxation. Additionally, the release of endorphins and other chemicals can help to reduce pain and fatigue, which can create a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after a long run.


Can Runners High Improve Your Running?


So, how can we harness the power of the runner's high to improve our running experience? The first step is to make sure that you're engaging in prolonged exercise that is intense enough to trigger the release of endorphins, endocannabinoids, and other chemicals. This can vary depending on your fitness level, but generally, a run that lasts for at least 30 minutes and gets your heart rate up can be enough to trigger the release of these chemicals.




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