What is Runner’s High?

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I would class myself as a runner. A slow runner, but a runner. I only recently broke a 30 minute 5k, so I’m by no means a speed demon, but as we learned from the video yesterday, women aren’t meant to be that fast…right?

Regardless, running is my therapy. It’s what I feel like I need to do when I’m overwhelmed with the world and all I want to do is hide. It seems that if I run long enough, any problem can be solved, any load can be lightened.

I also want to run when I’m feeling particularly happy and engaged. I am guilty of being a “drunk sprinter,” and I think it’s because my body knows that I’ll feel awesome if I run, even if it’s down a bar crawl street in boots.

Regular runners call this the runner’s high, others who engage in cardio that isn’t running may call it exercise high. But what is it, really?

Endocannibids and Euphoria

According to research done by Raichlen and Affiliates at Arizona University, at a certain level of intensity (usually around 20-30 minute of moderate to intense effort for humans) cardio exercise has an affect on endocannibids, which play a significant part in our moods by signalling the production of endorphins and canniboids. 

Say What?

The “high” is partially the pituitary gland sending out endorphins to help your body push through the pain when you have maxed out your muscle glycogen stores and switched to anaerobic activity (fat burning instead of glycogen burning). However, endorphins cannot get through the blood-brain barrier, and therefore can only be responsible for the lack of physical discomfort, and natural pacing rhythm achieved. The canniboid anandamide, however, can and does get through the blood brain barrier, and is released when the CB1 receptor is triggered by those handy endocanniboids I mentioned earlier, which are released during prolonged physical stress.

How Long Do I Have To Run Until I Like It?!

A common question asked to runners is “how can you like doing that to yourself!?” We usually roughly translate that to “How long do I have to run until I’m not thinking about how much I don’t want to run anymore?”

This is different for each person. The mechanism of runner’s high can be simplified to bustin’ A hard enough for long enough that your body releases morphine to help your muscles keep moving. Timing it seems to be a matter of how hard you’re willing to work–the slower you go, the longer you have to wait.

However, the “golden” advice I have heard time and time again is “30-60 continuous minutes of working.” If you’re not there yet, I highly suggest either C25k training, or just starting with what you can do and working your way up (worked for me!).

If you’re an experienced runner, but perhaps not getting the same “high” as before, try varying the speed of your runs, doing a fartlek run (you have no idea how many puns I have to put up with), or perhaps trying hill sprints to get that same glow going.

Parting Thoughts

Have you ever had an exercise induced feeling of euphoria?

Do you do cardio regularly? Why?

If you’re a LCHF runner, do you get a runner’s high really quickly? Because I certainly do… and now I know why!

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