Have you ever thought that you could run a few extra miles after a long run? If so, chances are you’ve experienced a runner’s high. Athletes often experience a feeling of relaxation and calm after hitting the desired target. This feeling of euphoria temporarily protects the body against any pain experienced during long periods of exercise. But the euphoria of the runner is not within everyone’s reach! It is a subjective subject.
Health Shots reached out to Dr Rushikesh Patil, Interventional Cardiologist, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital Powai, Mumbai to find out all about runner’s high.
What does runner’s high look like?
“Runner’s high is a real phenomenon experienced by many people who regularly engage in aerobic activities, including running. A marathon runner experiences a sense of happiness, reduced stress and a sense of well-being that accompanies long-term intense physical activity or during intense exercise,” explains the expert.
In other words, a runner’s high is a deep, short-lived state of euphoria where a feeling of relaxation washes over them. Euphoria is simply a state of extreme joy or pleasure.
It usually occurs after high intensity or prolonged exercise. As mentioned above, people with runner’s syndrome claim to feel less anxiety and less pain immediately after a long run.
However, not everyone experiences the same intensity of a runner’s high, as the experience is subjective. You have to cover those extra miles in one go to achieve a runner-like state. For some people, traveling such a long distance may 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 exercise. The benefits of running go far beyond our cardiovascular health.
“When individuals participate in intense cardiovascular exercise like running, their body releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers that promote feelings of pleasure and happiness. Endorphins interact with pain receptors in the brain which detect pain, reduce stress and regulate mood. This connection is what makes the runner feel superior. Also, they act as natural pain relievers that help you endure longer periods of running or any other exercise,” the expert shares.
For years, scientists have caved to the idea that endorphins are responsible for runners’ euphoria. In a way, that made sense, given that they had so many benefits.
The relationship between runner’s high and endorphins
It was only recently that researchers revealed that endorphins had less to do with runner’s high. Instead, they discovered a new molecule, endocannabinoids. These molecules impact your endocannabinoid system, the same system that is affected by the active compound in cannabis.
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Long periods of exercise release endocannabinoids into your bloodstream. So, if you feel euphoric or very relaxed after a run, we can assume that these molecules are responsible.
Endorphins are large molecules. Indeed, they are microscopic and difficult to see with the naked eye, but compared to other chemicals in the body, they are considerably large.
Due to their large size, they cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. These molecules act as a hindrance and prevent certain pathogens and other molecules from entering your brain. However, endorphins cannot cross your brain.
On the other hand, endocannabinoids are small molecules small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier. As mentioned above, these act 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 running. According to some research, anandamide can trigger runner’s high.
However, research that establishes the link between the body and the brain in relation to endocannabinoids is still limited.