Exercising has been proven to get your mood up and about, but running seems to do something more. Runners have regularly reported feelings of euphoria during their runs, especially amongst those who are avid runners or run long distances. This desire to run even more is due partly to the natural “high” that comes with the activity.
The science behind runner’s high
For a long time, many researchers and people have thought that the endorphins produced were the main reasons for feeling especially good after the run. However, this theory has been challenged due to the fact that endorphins are not able to pass through the blood-brain barrier to exert its effects. Thus, other chemicals were investigated for producing the euphoric effect associated with running.
One chemical in particular that came up was anandamide. It is a type of endocannabinoid, which is a chemical that regulates the effects of marijuana. Unlike endorphins, anandamide can pass through the blood-brain barrier properly to reach the brain centre, allowing the feel-good effects to kick in. Furthermore, research on mice models used to compare the effects of endorphins and anandamide have also theorised that it is the latter that brings about the runner’s high.
Like many things, a runner’s high may not be solely affected by a single factor. There are many theories and speculations (some backed by science and research) that come up when attempting to explain this phenomenon.
For one, studies have shown that leptin, which is a hormone that causes satiety, could also be the reason behind runner’s high. As the level of leptin decreases, you would feel hungrier which could provide the motivation to run. Another theory is that the concurrent increase in body temperature with running could be a key mechanism as temperature does have an effect on mood, whether directly or indirectly.
Whatever the scientific reason for runner’s high may be, it is undeniable that running can boost your mood. In the long term, this may even help to control feelings of depression and anxiety. However, as with many sports, it is important to keep safety in mind. Excessive running can lead to orthopaedic conditions, dehydration and even low blood glucose that can cause dizziness and fainting. But if you do run long distance, make sure that your body is up to it. Make hydration a priority and stop when you start to feel weak or dizzy. There is joy in running, but there is also no shame in stopping when you think you need to.