What is a runner's high?

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Fitness


"Runner’s high" refers to a state of euphoria experienced by many after prolonged bouts of exercise. Long considered to be the result of increased release of endorphins – chemicals the body makes with a similar action to pain-relieving morphine – recent research has uncovered that another potential cause of the runner’s high is a system of receptors located in the brain and other parts of the body that react to molecules like those found in certain recreational and medicinal “feel-good drugs.” These molecules set off a chain of reactions that reduce pain and anxiety and create a sense of well-being. Interestingly, what researchers have discovered is that with the right stimulus – such as exercise – the body can produce these pain and anxiety-relieving molecules on its own. Regardless of what causes it, enjoy runner’s high for what it is – that great sense of satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment when you complete a good workout.

    Picture of runner
    Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
    Internal Medicine
    Sustained aerobic exercise, whether it’s running, biking, or even Zumba-ing, can cause a release of brain chemicals called endorphins in the emotion- and mood-controlling regions of your brain.  Endorphins are your body’s natural form of opium (no kidding!).  They make you feel really happy and feel less pain.  So lace up those running shoes or clip on your cycling shoes, work up a sweat, and feel the flood of happiness and even euphoria of the runner’s high—yes some do describe it as orgasmic.

    When you push your body to the limit, such as in a marathon run, you can begin to experience pain.   To compensate for the pain the body produces endorphins.  Endorphins are capable of inducing a euphoric feeling when they bind to receptor points in the brain.

    Many regular exercisers report feeling great after exercising. Due to the fact that this sense of feeling better psychologically, emotionally and spiritually is so pervasive among runners, it has been termed the runner's high. The runner's high includes a sense of mental alertness, awareness and a sense of ease and exhilaration. It also includes feeling of effortlessness, gracefulness, and euphoria. During a runner's high there is a sense of well-being and enhanced appreciation in a transcendence of time and space.

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    Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.