Coming back earlier from a good, steady run, I became inspired to write about a little understood but commonly mentioned thing called ‘runner’s high’. Many people have claimed or claim to experience runner’s high while running, although this phenomenon is not exclusive to running. As some individuals will tell you, reaching a ‘high’ when involved in athletic activities is compared to a kind of orgasm and a feeling of euphoria even as the body in motion is in a good deal of strain and exertion.
What is this elusive runner’s high that some say they experience regularly, while others strive to reach and yet may never do so. The most common and accepted explanation for the occurrence of runner’s high or becoming high off a physical activity is that the release of endorphins during physical activity gives us pleasant feelings. Endorphins are said to flood the brain during many activities, with sports and running being one of them. When this chemical flood overtakes our brain we can have feelings ranging from a sense of well being and contentment to a rush of energy or a feeling of immense joy. Some say they feel at peace when reaching a runner’s high while others claim it is an out of body experience and still others say they just enjoy the activity so much that they become happier because of it.
Endorphins do exist and science has proven that the release of them can combat everything from depression and headaches to illness and stress. But then is endorphins were the key to runner’s high, how come some individuals can’t get enough of running or exercise while others cant avoid it quickly enough? After all if a high exists from an activity you’d think people would flock to that activity in order to get that good feeling.
This high some claim is addictive in a good way, which for these people means that if they experience runner’s high a few times then they will return to that activity that caused it over and over to keep getting that feeling again and again. This concept might explain how those who haven’t experienced it may not be as motivated to seek out physical activity as much.
But then again many of those that exercise regularly say they do exercise for health reasons or weight loss and never experience runner’s high while doing so yet continue to workout. Could behavioral reinforcement be behind the concept of runner’s high for those seemingly not affected by a flood of endorphins from working out hard enough? After all those that cite health and weight loss reasons for working out often see or feel results that keep them coming back for more. Naturally someone who is getting in shape will at least begin to feel a bit better about their body and about doing something good for their body. Could this feeling of doing something good for one’s body be runner’s high?
No one can prove if the above is in fact runner’s high but one famous Ultra-runner once claimed that he felt as if his body and mind separated and he was out of his body. To him that was runner’s high in that he felt like he was seeing his body from the outside and controlling it with his mind, void of any pain or physical sensations. Other people, myself included, cite that they get a feeling of a cleared mind while working out, that worries and stresses pretty much slip away and are replaced only with thoughts of focusing on the activity at hand. Whether this is a high or not is again debatable as many athletes may simply refer to this feeling as being ‘in the zone’.
So then what exactly is runner’s high? There is no doubt that during times of great physical exertion as found in running and other sports, levels of endorphins do rise in the brain, heart rate and breathing increase, and much of the body’s resources and components are focused purely on the task at hand. Obviously most individuals report feeling different when working out or playing sports and in part some of this change is due to physiological changes taking place whether feeling good or feeling a bit painful. Runner’s high might a case of mind over matter or merely all in one’s head. Although as many people attest to, they feel better overall during and after working out and while the exact reasons for each individual may vary, the concept of runner’s high is not that far off.