By TheFTR Coach Erin Storck

 

What is an Exercise High?

Many athlete experience a euphoric state during and/or post extended aerobic exercise. Some feel they could keep running for another 5 miles or feel as if they are on top of the world. Others report reduced anxiety, a lessoned ability to feel pain or a sense of calmness. This sensation is known to many as a “runner’s high”.  But, what is this elusive high?

 

What’s actually going on?

To date there is more than one theory on why runner’s high is experienced due to constantly developing studies and technology. A few of which include: 

 

Endorphins

For years, the talk in the exercise science community has been around endorphins.  Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands of the brain.  These chemicals are sometimes known as ‘natural painkillers’ that the brain releases that make one feel good.  In addition, endorphins have been found to be released in other naturally rewarding events, such as eating, drinking, sexual activity, and maternal behavior. However, more recent research has shown that endorphins may not be the only contributing factor to the ‘runner’s high’.

 

Endocannabinoids

In a recent German study, endocannabinoids, another chemical our bodies release during exercise, has similar effects to cannabis ( the chemical in marijuana), except our bodies are producing it! For our ancestors, this chemical release was essential to survival.  Researchers believe this chemical reduces physiological pain of ‘exercise’, allowing sustained  hunting for food or fleeing from predators. In modern society we achieve this feeling more voluntarily through exercise of choice.

 

How to Achieve It?

Although the science behind the runner’s high can be a bit confusing, there are several ways in which it can be experienced.  It is not only for runners, but is a feeling that many swimmers, bikers, skiers and other athletes alike experience.  It is best achieved through long, continuous, moderate-intensity exercise. Best results tending to be over the hour mark, and several weeks into a training program when you begin to build more endurance. Of course, many do say that in the pool or gym this high does not compare to a long run lost out in nature- there is more than just chemicals to this high.

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