What is the Runner’s High?

Many of us probably know about the endorphins that are released when we exercise, the great feeling that some of us get from running, walking, swimming and so on. These endorphins are often described as the body’s happy hormone, which makes exercise a sort of reward in itself; making a person feel euphoria or an elevation of mood afterwards.

Research has shown that it is possible to get addicted to this feeling of elation or euphoria. So where there is this elation as a result of exercise, a person may actually feel despair or a sense of loss when for some reason he or she is unable to get their exercise ‘fix’. This is what some experts refer to as Runner’s High.

Runner’s High

The problem with runners’ high is that it could mask feelings of pain that a person feels as a result of exercising too much.

The muscle fatigue, pain and other warning signs of stressing the body beyond a point may not be perceived by a person due to the release of these endorphin hormones and this could result in injury or bodily harm.

Scientists at the Tufts University conducted an experiment in rats that demonstrated this pain relieving or numbing ability of exercise.

Rats on an intense running regimen were seen to release certain chemicals that seemed to have the same impact on the brain as certain opiates – so literally they were intoxicated by these chemicals.

The link between elation and exercise is seen to be so strong that exercise is often suggested as a suitable option for recovering addicts of heroine or morphine; as a kind of ‘substitute drug’. Also proving this link is the fact that withdrawal of the reward generating stimulus; in this case being unable to exercise, can cause a person to feel bereft and also experience sadness or despair much like a drug addict.

The fact that drug abuse, eating disorders and such conditions are often seen to occur together in the same individual also lends credence to the Runner’s High hypothesis.

Another reason postulated for a runners’ high is that a person may feel great after a strenuous workout not just due to the hormone release, but also because of the elation and sense of triumph that can come from completing a set goal or challenge.

So runners’ high is a condition that many clinicians recognize and which can have several pitfalls if allowed to spiral out of control.