Get a runner’s high without running. Here’s how.
You want to feel amazing and on top of the world – grabbing the magical high runners get after they effortlessly breeze through and early morning five miler. But running isn’t in your repertoire, so how can you get that kick without committing to the grueling pace? If you’re a runner, you probably know the exhilaration of a “runner’s high”–that feeling of happiness compounded by a burst of energy.
What exactly is a runner’s high? Is it possible to achieve without running? We explored this concept and got answers to some of the most common questions about a runner’s high.
What is a runner’s high?
A runner’s high is a feeling of euphoria that is experienced by some individuals engaged in strenuous running and that is held to be associated with the release of endorphins by the brain–that’s the dictionary definition. However, there are more complex explanations of a runner’s high.
Liam Champion, licensed physical therapist and founder of Physiwiz said, “The main theory as to why we get a runners high, is that it helped our ancient ancestors push past the pain when out on a hunt. Humans are not the fastest species but we are by far the best species in terms of endurance. The theory is that endorphins developed as a method for temporarily ignoring the pain in the hopes that we’d have a higher chance of catching our dinner.” In a nutshell, when a endorphins are released in runners’ brains, the more happiness and energy they feel (1).
What happens to the body in a runner’s high?
Studies have found that with the right stimuli, the body creates its own cannabinoids (the endocannabinoids). These cannabinoids are comprised of molecules called lipids, so cannabinoids found in the blood post-exercise could be affecting the brain (2).
“Your brain, and more specifically your pituitary gland produces chemicals called endorphins. Their role is similar to a lot of other opiates in that they produce mild euphoria (making you feel good) as well as acting as painkillers,” Champion said. “When you complete any intense exercise such as running, you are putting stress on your body which signals your brain to start releasing these endorphins.”
Can a runner’s high be achieved by non-runners?
The phenomenon of a runner’s high is shown to be more than a simple surge in one chemical in the brain; it’s a series of complex compounds released in response to exercise that elevate your mood and emotions, increase energy, but also inspires calm and relaxation (3). Even better, a 2007 study even found that a consistent exercise program showed like results in comparison to patients with depressive disorders being treated with prescription antidepressants (4).
Champion said, “Endorphins are also released in various other situations which include exercise, pain, excitement, and even eating spicy foods! It is a natural human evolutionary trait.”
(1) Boecker, H.; Sprenger, T.; Spilker, M. E.; Henriksen, G.; Koppenhoefer, M.; Wagner, K. J.; Valet, M.; Berthele, A.; Tolle, T. R., The Runner’s High: Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain. Cerebral Cortex 2008, 18 (11), 2523-2531.
(2) Sparling, P. B., Giuffrida, A., Piomelli, D., Rosskopf, L., & Dietrich, A. (2003). Exercise activates the endocannabinoid system. NeuroReport, 14(17), 2209-2211. doi:10.1097/00001756-200312020-00015
(3) Sparling, P.; Giuffrida, A.; Piomelli, D.; Rosskopf, L. B.; Dietrich, A., Exercise activates the endocannabinoid system. Cognitive Neuroscience 2003, 14 (15), 1-3.
(4) Blumenthal, J. A.; Babyak, M. A.; Doraiswamy, P. M.; Watkins, L.; Hoffman, B. M.; Barbour, K. A.; Herman, S.; Craighead, W. E.; Brosse, A. L.; Waugh, R.; Hinderliter, A.; Sherwood, A., Exercise and Pharmacotherapy in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine 2007, 69 (7), 587-596.