Have you ever felt that you could run a few extra miles after completing a long run? If so, chances are that you have experienced a runner’s high. Athletes often experience a feeling of relaxation and calm after hitting their desired mark. This sense of euphoria guards the body against any pain experienced from long bouts of exercise temporarily. But, runner’s high is not for everyone to experience! It’s a subjective topic.
Health Shots got in touch with Dr Rushikesh Patil, Interventional Cardiologist, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital Powai, Mumbai, to understand everything about runner’s high.
What does the runner’s high feel like?
“The “runner’s high” is an actual phenomenon gone through by many individuals who regularly engage in aerobic activities, especially running. A marathon runner experiences a feeling of happiness, reduced stress, and a sense of well-being that comes with long-term intense physical activity or during strenuous exercise,” says the expert.
In other words, a runner’s high is a short-lived, deep state of euphoria where a feeling of relaxation washes over him/her. Euphoria is simply a state of extreme joy or delight.
It usually occurs after a high-intensity or lengthy exercise. As aforementioned, people experiencing runner’s high claim to feel less anxious and lesser pain immediately after a long run.
However, not everyone gets to feel the same intensity of a runner’s high since the experience is subjective. You need to cover those extra miles in one go to reach a state of runner’s high. For some people, covering such a long distance can be very unlikely.
The connection 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 beyond benefitting our cardiovascular health.
“When individuals participate in strenuous cardiovascular exercise like running, their bodies release endorphins, which are natural painkillers that promote feelings of pleasure and happiness. Endorphins interact with the pain receptors in the brain that sense pain, reduce stress, and regulate mood. This connection is what makes a runner feel superior. Alongside, these act as natural pain relievers that help you endure longer bouts of running or any other exercise,” shares the expert.
For years, scientists have given in to the idea that endorphins are responsible for runner’s high. Somewhere it made sense, considering they had a great deal of benefits.
The relation between runner’s high and endorphins
It was only recently that researchers revealed that endorphins have less to do with runner’s high. Instead, they found a new molecule, endocannabinoids. These molecules impact your endocannabinoid system, the same system that gets affected by the active compound in cannabis.
Long periods of exercise release endocannabinoids into your bloodstream. So, if you feel euphoric or highly relaxed after a run, we can safely admit that these are the responsible molecules.
Endorphins are large-sized molecules. Indeed, they are microscopic and are hard to see through the naked eye, but in comparison to other chemicals of the body, they are considerably large.
Owing to their large size, they are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. These molecules act as a hindrance and prevent certain pathogens and other molecules from entering your brain. However, endorphins can’t pass through to reach your brain.
On the flip side, endocannabinoids are small molecules and are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier. These, as aforementioned, work on the 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 run. As per some research, anandamide can trigger a runner’s high.
However, the research that clears the link between the body and the brain in relation to endocannabinoids is still limited.