The Science Behind the “Runner’s High”

The Science Behind the “Runner’s High”

Physical exercise releases endorphins in the brain, resulting in a natural high. For runners, it is commonly known as the runner’s high. And unlike other highs, this one is free, natural, and healthy. The Runner’s High varies from person to person. Here are a few personal thoughts on the subject:

“The true but rare runner’s high is a zone that we enter when everything seems to click perfectly, when time stands still, and when we can run almost without effort.” – Amby Burfoot

“I believe in the runner’s high, and I believe that those who are passionate about running are the ones who experience it to the fullest degree possible. To me, the runner’s high is a sensational reaction to a great run! It’s an exhilarating feeling of satisfaction and achievement. It’s like being on top of the world, and truthfully…there’s nothing else quite like it!” – Sasha Azevedo

“To hear nothing but breath, to feel nothing but heartbeat, to feel so much like hell, running so close to heaven, this is the Runner’s High.” - Unknown

What is the Runner’s High?

As per Merriam-Webster’s definition, 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 a release of endorphins by the brain.

Is the Runner’s High Real?

According to the following studies, the runner’s high is very real and quite legit:

  • While the Runner’s High was known throughout the world to newbies, professionals, medical experts and more, it wasn’t proven until a groundbreaking study in 2008. German researchers at the University of Bonn captured the increased release of endorphins in certain areas of athletes’ brains during a two-hour jogging session.
  • Following that first 2008 study (and even before then), endorphins got all the credit for the Runner’s High, but recent research reveals something else. This study from The University of Oxford, demonstrates that endocannabinoids could play a larger part in the euphoric of a Runner’s High. Endocannabinoids, like endorphins, are a type of chemical released by our bodies during prolonged exercise, and the study shows that this chemical specifically can have a similar impact as marijuana (yes, you read that right) – hence the “high” in Runner’s High.
  • While endorphins and endocannabinoids are chemicals all can experience during a long run, research from Cecilia J. Hillard, Ph.D., director of the Neuroscience Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin suggests that there are certain conditions that make experiencing these running effects more likely. Her research shows that eight hours of sleep leads to optimal endocannabinoid production, and that production is more likely in the mornings.

Marathon Recovery for Running Junkies

Planning on taking your love for running (and the Runner’s High) to new heights with a Marathon? Don’t forget about marathon recovery! Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind.