We’ve all heard of runner’s high. But how do you get it? And why does it feel so great?
When you run, your body releases ENDORPHINS, chemicals that make you feel happy and euphoric. These chemicals are released during exercise and help you recover from physical stress.
- During and after exercise, several changes to your physiological state occur.
- The runner’s high is a feeling of relaxation and sometimes euphoria following a run.
- You can increase your chances of runner’s high by running longer distances or varying your runs with different running workouts.
But what happens when you stop running? Do you still experience runner’s high? And if so, how long does it last?
Scientists have long believed this feeling is caused by the rush of endorphins. Recent research suggests it’s not endorphins that cause this – so what is?
This article is going to discuss the truth behind the runner’s high and what could be the true cause of it.
What Exactly Is A Runner’s High?
A runner’s high is a state of RELAXATION and sometimes EUPHORIA during or after a run.
People usually experience it after a long, INTENSE workout, but it doesn’t happen to everyone.
Once you get into that elevated mood and euphoric state, running becomes effortless.
Euphoria is subjective, which is why it is hard to measure. Some people state they’ve felt extremely relaxed and content after their run, and others state the opposite.
Even if you’ve mostly experienced the latter, there are some tremendous mental benefits of running, as well as physical, and we’re going to discuss that in this article.
What Causes Runner’s High
So what happens to your body during a run:
- Running releases endorphins into your blood.
- As a result, your muscles do not feel pain as much, allowing you to exercise for more extended periods.
For years, these chemicals have also been known to produce feelings of happiness, and they have been labeled as one of the ‘feel good’ chemicals.
But another molecule is more responsible for the feeling of happiness during exercise. What could be responsible for the runner’s high are endocannabinoids.
Endorphins are released naturally into your bloodstream during exercise or in times of pain or stress, as they help your body deal with these feelings.
Endorphins have many POSITIVE effects on the body, such as:
- Pleasure and happiness boost
- Anxiety and stress reduction
- Pain reduction
- Symptoms of depression are reduced
Endocannabinoids are molecules that help with various bodily functions.
Effects of endocannabinoids include:
- Energy balance
- Anxiety reduction
- Mood elevation
- A sense of calm
Your body naturally produces endocannabinoids. But exercise like running is a great way to STIMULATE and support your endocannabinoid system.
Running can increase the levels of anandamide, an endocannabinoid. This can lead to positive feelings in the brain. So endocannabinoids are thought to be responsible for the runner’s high.
While endocannabinoids seem to be the reason for the runner’s high, research is still limited, but is ongoing.
How To Get Runner’s High?
Not every runner will be able to experience runner’s high. That doesn’t mean it’s a myth. Those who experience it may find themselves even chasing after it.
Each of us is different, so there is no one way to achieve that feeling.
Here are some tips for getting runner’s high:
- Run consistently. You probably won’t get a runner’s high if you are just starting out. You cannot sustain an intense enough exercise to trigger that state.
- Run longer. You don’t usually get over the edge on shorter 30-minutes runs. Aim to run for 45 minutes to an hour (for regular runners, it means 5 to 8 miles run), but there is no hard rule here. Experienced runners have to push even more to get to that state of discomfort and stress.
- Run faster. Increase your odds by running faster during some sessions.
- Fast and strong finish. A strong finish might push you over the edge of that high.
- Add intervals to your training. This step is crucial to prevent your body from adapting to your workout. To get that high, you need a moderate amount of stress. Mix up your routine with high-intensity interval runs to keep the stress factor flowing.
- Don’t push yourself too hard. Trying too hard can lead to early fatigue and injury (remember the rest days and good sleep!)
- Listen to Music. Music can boost your mood while you run. Music stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling good.
If you want to feel better or get better running, mixing up your running is essential. If you just make the same loop with the same pace every day, it’s harder to get better (and harder to get that runner’s high feeling).
Is Runner’s High Real?
Yes, but you need to be PATIENT. Each runner experiences their runner’s high at a DIFFERENT threshold. You need to test and discover your own physical and mental limits to achieve that.
A state of euphoria is more likely to occur when running longer distances.
The more you train, the more chances you have of experiencing it repeatedly.
Unfortunately, the happy feeling does not last forever after crossing the finish line.
Can You Get a Runner’s High From Other Activities Than Running?
Yes. Unlocking the runner’s high happens with continuous moderate exercise.
A similar INCREASE in endocannabinoids can be found in other activities such as cycling and hiking.
It just takes time and effort to achieve the high.
There is no specific pace or distance to experience euphoria. Do something moderately challenging for you and stick with it long enough (at least 30-60 minutes).
So it is not only runners who experience runner’s high.
How Long Does a Runner’s High Last?
A runner’s high is a relatively short-lasting experience of euphoria following running (or any other exercise).
It can last a few minutes to hours after you finish your exercise.
It depends on the intensity and duration of your physical activity and several biological elements.
Why Does A Runner’s High Exist? Where Does It Come From?
Endorphins probably helped our ancestors SURVIVE when they spent long days hunting.
They would have endured prolonged periods of hunger and exhaustion.
Our bodies developed these abilities to push through when needed.
During long periods of hunting and running after food, it improved performance.
Other Mental (and Physical) Benefits Of Running
While a runner’s high is never guaranteed, there are other benefits of running that should be reason enough to take it up.
1. Running Can Extend Your Life
Several studies have shown that running can EXTEND your life. In 2018, an analysis of research on running showed that those who run regularly have a 25 to 30 percent lower rate of all-cause mortality.
Other research has shown similar results. It has been found that running promotes:
- cardiovascular fitness,
- lower cholesterol levels,
- good insulin and glucose control, and
- stronger bones.
All of which leads to a healthier life, which translates into a longer life.
2. Running Improves Sleep
Sleep is when the body repairs itself, so ensuring you are getting enough good sleep is critical.
Research has shown that regular exercise can resolve any sleep-related issues, and can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
It has also been shown to improve the quality of sleep one gets each night. Therefore, regular exercise and good sleep are very closely linked.
3. Running Improves Your Immunity
Studies have shown that regular running can improve your immunity.
If combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, running can:
- increase the body’s protection against disease,
- lower inflammation, and
- reduce the risk of catching infections.
4. Running Improves Mental Health And Can Reduce Depression
While many runners begin their running journey for the physical benefits, after some time they will begin to boast about the mental benefits.
Several studies have found that running has mood-boosting properties, with some research stating that is it a great way to manage levels of depression and anxiety.
However, depression is a complex mental issue that should be addressed medically, as well as physically.
5. Running May Reduce The Risk Of Some Cancers
Research has also shown that those who are regular runners are sometimes less likely to DEVELOP certain cancers, as opposed to those who do not engage in any running or physical activity.
In the unfortunate event that someone develops these conditions, regular exercise, such as running, has been shown to lower side effects from different medications and treatments and help with emotions.
However, this does depend on the type of conditions and the physical state of the person experiencing it.
A Runner's High: My Life in Motion by Dean Karnazes (2021 HarperCollins Publishers).
This is another story from ultrarunning legend Dean Karnazes (he has run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, for example).
It is a book about running, especially ultra-running, and much more. It gives insight into the physical and mental toughness needed for ultra running.
It is a worthy sequel to his earlier book Ultra Marathon Man. That book encouraged many to start running and exploring distances they thought impossible.
Reading this makes you want to go for a run and hopefully get you to runner’s high.Get a copy or audiobook from Amazon.
The Bottom Line
In summary, a runner’s high can be in the form of a state of relaxation, or a euphoric feeling.
This is likely to be the cause of the increased levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream, which are then able to make their way through the blood-brain barrier, giving off a positive feeling in the brain.
Getting over the edge is like running in your own world and enjoying every moment.
Despite this mental benefit, there are an array of physical benefits of running, such as improved overall health, and better sleep!