Your feet are pounding the road. Sweat runs off your brow. You arms and legs pump as you run. And then suddenly without warning, you feel a rush of energy and well-being and the effort of running instantaneously becomes effortless. You wouldn’t think finding yourself in a state of euphoria while you’re exercising is a normal thing. But, in fact, that state of intense wellbeing does happen frequently to runners and it is, appropriately enough, called runner’s high although anyone exercising vigorously can experience it. So what exactly is it?
For years, the scientific community debated as to what exactly was going on inside people’s heads when they described the intense feelings associated with runner’s high. Most theories circled around the idea of endorphins being released in a rush at a certain point during exercise. Endorphins are chemicals that are released in the body during times of excitement, pain, and eating spicy goods as well as vigorous exercise. This chemical also blunts any sensation of pain and promotes a feeling of happiness and wellbeing.
A German study in 2008 gave support to the endorphin theory. They scanned runners’ brains and measured levels of the chemical before and after a run. Their findings point to an increase in circulating endorphins that directly correlated with each runner’s description of how they felt.
The runner’s high comes at a time when your body has run out of the energy stored within your muscles. The energy source is called glycogen, a form of carbohydrate your body uses as ready fuel. Scientists don’t know why yet, but when your body is depleted of glycogen, a flood of endorphins is released into the blood stream while your body switches over to another type of energy to burn – this time in the form of fat.
The feelings of runner’s high can vary from simply pleasant all the way to an out-of-body type of experience. Most individuals remark on how effortless running seems, how light their bodies feel and how they seem to have limitless energy. Others report increased feelings of happiness. The high will peak around twenty minutes after the initial rush and then gradually decrease in its intensity thereafter.
Experiencing the runner’s high, while powerful, can sometimes be elusive – it is different for each person. Some people may experience it regularly while others may never know the intense feeling – ever. Knowing that running causes your body to release endorphins anyway is something to keep in mind. Experiencing the rush is just icing on the cake.