Have you ever felt like you could run a few extra miles after completing a long run? If so, chances are you’ve experienced runner’s high. Athletes often experience a sense of relaxation and calmness after achieving their desired mark. This feeling of euphoria temporarily shields the body from any soreness that may result from prolonged periods of exercise. But, the Runner’s High experience isn’t for everyone! This is a subjective topic.

Health Shots got in touch with Dr. Rushikesh Patil, Interventional Cardiologist, Dr. LH Hiranandani Hospital Powai, Mumbai to understand all about runner’s high.

What does runner’s high feel like?

“Runner’s high” is a real phenomenon experienced by many individuals who regularly engage in aerobic activities, especially run, The expert says, “A marathon runner experiences pleasure, less stress and a sense of well-being during prolonged intense physical activity or strenuous exercise.”

runner's high
Runner’s high is a feeling of euphoria in response to feel-good chemicals released into the bloodstream after a long run. Image Courtesy: Adobe Stock

In other words, a runner’s high is a short-lived, deep state of euphoria where he feels relaxed. Euphoria is simply a state of extreme happiness or elation.

This usually occurs after high intensity or prolonged exercise. As mentioned above, people who experience runner’s high claim to feel less anxiety and less soreness immediately after a long run.

However, not everyone feels the same intensity as a runner’s pace because the experience is subjective. To reach the status of runner’s peak, you have to cover those extra miles one at a time. For some people, traveling such a long distance can be extremely impossible.

Relationship between body and brain in response to running

Runner’s high isn’t the only side effect of running or exercising. The benefits of running go far beyond benefiting our heart health.

runner's high
Running with proper discipline and consistency helps you reach the highest level of a runner. Image Courtesy: shutterstock

“When individuals participate in vigorous cardiovascular exercise such as run, their bodies release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers that promote feelings of happiness and joy. Endorphins interact with pain receptors in the brain that sense pain, reduce stress and regulate mood. This connection is what makes a runner feel superior. Also, they act as natural pain relievers that help you endure long runs or any other exercise,” share the expert.

For years, scientists have stuck to the idea that endorphins are responsible for a runner’s high. Somewhere this is understandable, given that they have a lot of advantages.

The Connection Between Runner’s High and Endorphins

Recently researchers revealed that endorphins have nothing to do with runner’s high. Instead, they found a new molecule, endocannabinoids. These molecules affect your endocannabinoid system, the same system affected by the active compounds in cannabis.

Read also: Marathon Running for Beginners: How to Prepare for Runner’s High

Prolonged exercise releases endocannabinoids into your bloodstream. So, if you feel euphoric or overly relaxed after running, we can safely assume that these are the molecules responsible.

Endorphins are large molecules. Indeed, they are microscopic and difficult to see with the naked eye, but compared to other chemicals in the body, they are quite large.

Due to their large size, they are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. These molecules act as a barrier and prevent certain pathogens and other molecules from entering your brain. However, the endorphins do not reach your brain.

Endocannabinoids, on the other hand, are smaller molecules and are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier. As mentioned above, these act on receptors in your endocannabinoid system.

Anandamide, a type of endocannabinoid, is found in high levels in the blood of people who have just finished a race. According to some research, anandamide may trigger high blood pressure in runners.

However, research clarifying the relationship between the body and brain regarding endocannabinoids is still limited.


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