A subjective sense of well-being is experienced after prolonged physical exertion. A runner's high is an ephemeral pleasant phenomenon that may be experienced during long-term running. This feeling of elation is not experienced by everyone who runs or exercises. However, those that do may find themselves exerting to chase that exquisite feeling.
How does our body and brain respond to running?
Your body undergoes a transition when you begin to run. Your breathing becomes heavy, your pulse quickens as your heart pumps harder to move the oxygenated blood to your brain and muscles. As you hit your stride, your body releases certain chemicals and hormones like Endorphine, Dopamine, and Leptin and also activates the Endocannabinoids system, a complex cell-signaling system. Exercise increases the level of cannabinoid receptors in the bloodstream moving easily through the cellular barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain, where these mood-improving neuromodulators promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feeling of calmness.
- Endorphines are the ‘feel-good’ chemicals produced naturally by the nervous system.
- Dopamine, the chemical messenger or neurotransmitter plays an integral role in the reward system that controls motivation, desire, and craving.
- Leptin is a hormone regulating feelings of hunger and satiety.
The stone-age thesis
The cause of the burst of these chemicals is still unknown to science but experts over the years have formed their evolutionary theories. These theories take us back to prehistoric times when to escape dangerous situations humans had to run swiftly to guard themselves. The positive sensation of the runners high helps humans to run longer and faster while masking their pain of exhaustion. Lower levels of leptin increase the human motivation, dopamine, to run to pursue food. This bodily function increased the chances of human survival.
The scientific thesis of long-term benefits and facts
The mental benefits don’t stop when you finish your run. A disciplined aerobic exercise can spark the growth of new blood vessels and may also produce new brain cells in certain locations leading to an overall improvement in the brain performance, and prevent cognitive decline. This process is called neurogenesis. Researchers have correlated running with antidepressants as it blunts the brain's response to physical and emotional stress. By making running or jogging a part of your routine, you stand to earn more than just physical gains over time.
Surveys have revealed a bitter truth of runners high being rather rare and a majority of the runner has never experienced it at all. Many distance runners feel merely drained or even nauseated at the end of the long race, being far away from ‘blissful’.