What Is Runner’s High?
After a lengthy session of aerobic exercise, some people experience what is referred to as a “runner’s high”. If you’ve never heard of or experienced this before, we’re on hand to explore what it is exactly and how you might be able to achieve it.
Simply put, runners high is a feeling of euphoria harmonising with reduced anxiety and ability to feel pain. For many years, scientists have linked the phenomenon of runners high with an increased level of endorphins in the blood. Runners that have experienced this so-called high during a lengthy run, get a sense of elation that makes them feel as if they could keep running for many more miles to come.
If you’ve heard about the elusive runner’s high but you’re yet to experience it, don’t feel too discouraged. It’s not as easy to come by as you might think, due to the fact that the exact cause of this exhilarated moment is still undetermined.
As past research suggests that the cause is endorphins; those feel-good chemicals in the brain that our bodies release during physical activity, some scientists have pointed out that this might not be the case: claiming that endorphins are actually too large to pass the blood-brain barrier rapidly, meaning that it’s unlikely that they’d directly affect our brains, rather, they work in our muscles to dampen any pain.
Research from recent years suggests that during a runner’s high, endocannabinoids are released into our bodies. These specific chemicals have a similar impact to cannabis, meaning that this evolutionary theory is based on the fact that our bodies release this natural drug during physical activity in order to ‘take the edge off’. If you’re reading this and thinking that the fast track to experiencing a runner’s high is to use cannabis to do so, that’s not quite how it works.
Although there are no definitive answers when it comes to what exactly causes runners high, there is plenty of research to search the steps you can take to experience it. Luckily for you, we’ve been reading up on the wealth of information out there, so you don’t have to. Now, we’re about to break it down.
Research seems to suggest that the trigger is endorphins, much like their chemically engineered counterpart, morphine, they relieve pain to allow you to run for longer or at a faster pace.
Back in 2008, a German research team gathered runners and ran brain scans to allow them to determine exactly where they originated. During their revolutionary experiment, scientist found that during two hour long runs, the subjects’ prefrontal and limbic regions generate endorphins. The study found that the greater the surge of endorphins within these parts of the brains, the more euphoria the runners experienced.
But How Exactly Do You Get There?
To order to generate endorphins, you need to be pushing yourself, within reason of course. Endorphins are painkillers that our bodies produce in response to physical discomfort, but it’s important that you’re not pushing your runs to the point of excruciating pain. You need to be able to find the sweet spot so that your runs are comfortably challenging in order to experience an elusive runner’s high.
In the German study, the subjects chosen were experienced runners that would find a two-hour run at a pace of six to seven miles per hour a challenge, but not unthinkable. The reason for this is because the intensity of a run plays a big part. Some scientists believe that a runner’s high is trigged in a runner when blood flow is maximized, and endocannabinoid receptors are stimulated and receptive.
Simply put, in order to set yourself up for a runner’s high, you need to focus on steady-state cardio when your heart rate is at a sustainable level of elevation. If a workout is too intense, the brain’s self-protecting mechanism might kick in.
Research also suggests that the more experienced you are, the more likely you will be to encounter a runner’s high. Not the greatest news for new runners, but a good motivation to stick at it.
So, when you’re working towards a runner’s high, here’s what you need to remember:
- Ensure that you don’t attempt a pace or distance that is too intense. As powerful as they might be, endorphins are not able to override an injury or lack of training, so take it steady.
- It’s just one of those things that come with time. Don’t expect to experience a runner’s high when you’ve just started out.
- You need to push hard to experience it, but not too hard. Find that sweet spot that will stimulate your endocannabinoid receptors that play a key part.
- Focus of steady-state cardio training, consistency is key.
If you don’t know too much about runner’s high, we have a feeling that you’ll be wondering ‘how will I know?’ or ‘what will it feel like’? We’ve got that covered too.
What Will It Feel Like?
In a nutshell, over the years, runners have said that runner’s high is what stimulates them to push on during workouts. With runners claiming that the feeling will encourage both your mind and body to almost want to do more. It’s worth noting that if you feel it once, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel it every time. This is because there are so many factors to this weird and wonderful phenomenon that need to be perfectly aligned, so there’s zero guarantees it will happen.
We do have some good news though runner’s high isn’t exclusive to runners. It can be experienced by almost any form of exercise that requires endurance. So, if you’re reading this thinking, I want this experience, but I hate running, not all is lost. It can really happen from any type of training as long as you do it for long enough and with proper form throughout.
We’re certainly not scientists here, but as a parting comment: if you find a type of exercise that puts a smile on your face, and makes you feel good with every workout, that’s good enough for us, high or no high.