Find out how running can make you happier. Learn what causes the runner’s high and why it feels so good!
Believe me when I say that runners always talk about how great they feel after a run. They call it their “runner’s high” and describe it as euphoria and general well-being. I’ve never really understood what they’re talking about. It sounds like exercise-induced psychosis to me! But, as a scientist, I understand the science behind the runner’s high phenomenon.
There is evidence that running can release endorphins, neurotransmitters that help you relax, feel less pain, and even experience euphoria (i.e., your own personal version of a runner’s high). However, before we dive into this topic more fully, let’s look at how some people describe the effects of running on their well-being to understand why we might want to investigate this further.
What is runner’s high?
Running is one of the best ways to relieve stress. It can help lower the risk of depression, reduce anxiety, and improve your mood. When you feel an overwhelming sense of happiness after a run, it’s called “runner’s high.” This is when endorphins are released into your bloodstream while running—and they stay there even after you’ve finished.
“Runner’s high’ is a phrase that we use to describe the feelings of psychological well-being that are associated quite often with long-duration, rhythmic-type exercise, and marathon running certainly falls into that category”— Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise
What causes runner’s high?
A runner’s high is a euphoric state often reported by runners. It’s caused by the release of endorphins, chemicals that act as neurotransmitters and make you feel good.
Runner’s high is caused by endorphins, an opioid peptide that acts on the nervous system to reduce pain and increase pleasure. When endorphins are released, they bind to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and digestive tract. They block pain signals from traveling up to the brain and simultaneously make you feel good—sometimes euphorically so.
Endorphins have an analgesic effect on your body and mind, reducing pain perception and relaxation. The feeling is sometimes described as “a natural high.” It’s also known as the “endorphin high” because it’s caused by the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.
Endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland and travel through the bloodstream to bind to receptors in the brain. When they reach these receptors, they block pain signals and create a sense of well-being and calmness. This effect can last for hours after even a short run.
“As you hit your stride, your body releases hormones called endorphins.” Popular culture identifies these as the chemicals behind “runner’s high,” a short-lasting, deeply euphoric state following intense exercise. Surveys have revealed runner’s high to be rather rare, however, with a majority of athletes never experiencing it. “Indeed, many distance runners feel merely drained or even nauseated at the end of a long race, not blissful,”— The Truth Behind ‘Runner’s High’ and Other Mental Benefits of Running | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Running releases endorphins in two ways:
1) When you run, your muscles require more oxygen than usual. So, they start burning more carbohydrates and fats to produce energy. The byproducts of this process include carbon dioxide and lactic acid. They are built up in your muscles, making them feel fatigued or sore. Endorphins act like fake neurotransmitters that stop pain signals from traveling up the spinal cord to your brain. By blocking these signals, endorphins allow you to ignore the discomfort associated with muscle fatigue during exercise—and keep going despite it!
2) When you run hard or long enough, your body releases epinephrine (adrenaline) from your adrenal glands—organs that sit on top of your kidneys. Epinephrine is a hormone that increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. It also mobilizes energy stores in your muscles and liver, providing extra energy to help you push through fatigue during exercise. As epinephrine levels increase in your bloodstream, so do endorphin levels.
Runner’s high is most likely caused by a combination of factors, including the release of endorphins and other chemicals like adrenaline (epinephrine) that lead to increased feelings of pleasure and decreased pain perception. Additionally, running can distract you from negative thoughts or difficult emotions, providing a welcome distraction from life’s stresses. And finally, the social aspects of running (i.e., being part of a running group or community) can also lead to increased feelings of happiness and connectedness.
The runner’s mindset
Researchers call “the runner’s mindset” what causes a runner’s high in the long run. This is when you start to think of running as a part of who you are and enjoy it more than ever. For example, you could think of your run not just as exercise or something you have to do but also as a chance to relax or take a break from work.
Endocannabinoid – endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system comprises neuromodulatory lipids and the receptors that bind to them. These are found in the brains of mammals and all over the central and peripheral nervous systems. It was first found by a group of researchers led by Lumir Hanus in the late 1980s. They called it the “endocannabinoid system” because its existence wasn’t known until cannabinoids from cannabis plants were separated. Its main job is to control bodily functions like appetite, pain perception, mood, and memory.
The endocannabinoid system comprises a group of proteins called cannabinoid receptors. They are primarily found in the brain and other parts of the body. These proteins control many things in the body, like how muscles move, how the immune system works, how nerves are protected, how we eat, how we reproduce, how anxious we are, and how addicted we are to drugs.
During biosynthesis, membrane phospholipids are used to make endogenous cannabinoids. They are then released into the extracellular space on demand to act as “backward” messages. They do what they do by binding to cannabinoid receptors CB1 (CB1R) or CB2 (CB2R), which are found in most cells at multiple levels.
Cross the blood-brain barrier
Some neurotransmitters in the brain are released when you work out, making you feel good. These neurotransmitters help control mood, and how the body reacts to pain and feelings. They have a big effect on how we feel and act.
Beta-endorphin is the name of one of these brain chemicals. It works like morphine and binds to opioid receptors in the brain to relieve pain. It lowers stress and anxiety and makes people feel better. Even though beta-endorphin isn’t released when you exercise, it seems to be released when you feel good about yourself after exercise (the “runner’s high”).
Beta-endorphin can also help us deal with stress by making us feel less pain. This may be why some people like to work out even though it hurts.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that seems to have something to do with the runner’s high. Dopamine is a key part of what makes us want to do things and how we learn from rewards and reinforcers.
The blood-brain barrier keeps most drugs from getting into the brain. This is a natural way for the body to keep harmful chemicals out of the brain (BBB). But it has been shown that THC can get past this barrier when it is smoked or eaten, or drunk.
How do you get a runner’s high?
You can get this feeling by exercising regularly or doing an intense workout once in a while. The more often you exercise, however, the more likely it will be that you experience this euphoric feeling during or after exercise:
The trick to getting the most out of the run is consistency. Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to explore how you can get a runner’s high.
Start slow and increase your distance gradually. You don’t want to injure yourself or burn yourself out on your first few runs, so take time to build up your strength before attempting a long run. Also, be sure not to overtrain—if you’re feeling sore every day, then it’s probably time for a break from running.
Run at a comfortable pace with proper form. “When starting out, try running at an easy pace that is just slow enough so that you can still carry on a conversation while running with someone else or listening to music or podcasts; this will help keep things interesting while allowing your body plenty of time to adjust itself physically before pushing any harder than necessary during workouts later down the line once they become more frequent throughout each week.”
Why does runner’s high work?
The chemicals that flood your body during and after exercise cause the runner’s high. These chemicals fight pain, reduce stress and produce joy. The most important ones are endorphins, oxytocin (a hormone that makes you feel good), endocannabinoids (the body’s natural marijuana), and ketones.
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers—they block pain signals from reaching the brain, so you don’t feel as much discomfort when working out. Oxytocin is also released during exercise, making you feel good about yourself and others around you. You should also know that there may be a link between exercise and depression since it releases endorphins which help fight sadness or negative feelings in some people with depression problems or anxiety disorders such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Endocannabinoids are similar compounds found naturally in the human brain that make us feel euphoric after running long distances at moderate speeds over long periods without stopping until exhaustion sets in because these same compounds will cause you too much stress if they try to get into your bloodstream while still being active. Instead, they need rest time before returning home safely!
If you are thinking about running or already running, learn how to unlock your own runner’s high.
If you are thinking about running or already running, learn how to unlock your own runner’s high.
- Running makes you happier. A University of Georgia study found that running for 30 minutes three times a week can make you more satisfied with life.
- Running improves your health. Regular exercise like running can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels; it also helps prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (to name just a few).
- Running relieves stress. In fact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), it’s one of the best ways to do so! The ACSM recommends performing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at least three times per week for 20 minutes at a time—but if that seems daunting right now or if you don’t have access to a gym, try taking an evening jog around your neighborhood instead! You’ll get all the same benefits without spending hours working out on equipment or going through expensive membership fees at gyms where everyone is always in too much of a rush.
I hope this article has helped you understand the science behind runner’s high and why many people find it a great way to stay active and motivated. The most important thing is that you enjoy your running, whether or not you get a little extra boost from the endorphins produced by exercise!
FAQ about the Runner’s High
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Alex is a passionate fitness enthusiast dedicated to helping people lead healthier, more active lifestyles. He encourages small – sustainable changes over drastic transformations and works with people to create customized wellness plans. His mission is to help others benefit from the most effective methods available, sharing tips, strategies, and health & fitness tools on Gearuptofit.com to inspire people to live their best lives.