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What Is Runner’s High?
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What Is Runner’s High?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on December 14, 2022
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7 min

You have probably heard about runner’s high and were wondering what it is, right? Well, today, we discuss what exactly this magical “high” is and how to achieve this great feeling when running.

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Have you ever been to a marathon to watch athletes of different calibers wobble past the finish line? 

While the total run time and distance is an impressive feat for anybody, seeing how exhausted they are, you must have stopped to think, “Why would anybody put themselves through this on purpose?” 

In fact, the look of exhaustion is one reason why many people shy away from creating a running-inclusive workout routine.

While there are many reasons why people subject themselves to such excruciating tasks, runner’s high often comes up among many runners. However, if you are unfamiliar with the term, you should know that “runner’s high” is quite an elusive feeling. 

When asked what this high is and the ensuing experience surrounding it, people simply refer to it as an endorphin rush that comes during and after exercise. According to them, they feel more energy after finishing their runs than they do before the run. 

For some runners, it is a constant in their athletic lives. Others experience this high every now and then after their run, and there are even those who have never experienced a runner’s high. 

But what exactly is the science behind this feeling? Is it similar to the euphoria experienced after taking a performance-enhancing drug? Surely it cannot all be a result of the release of endorphins alone, right? 

Are there specific running workouts, and how much exertion do you need with each training session?

In this article, we go over the science behind the infamous runner’s high, unearthing the mystery behind it and seeing if there is a surefire way to achieve it. Are there any benefits to it? Let’s find out!

What Is Runner’s High? 

The runner’s high is a short-term, intensely euphoric state that accompanies intense aerobic exercise. However, it is essential to note that not everyone engaging in intense, lengthy workouts gets to experience the runner’s high. 

Still, this elusive feeling provides many exciting health benefits, including alleviating stress, depression, and anxiety. It also helps boost mood and energy levels while inducing a sense of weightlessness, similar to many mind-altering drugs.

What Causes Runner’s High?

Little is known about the exactness of the chemical process responsible for this feeling. However, decades of evolutionary science show that the body produces several chemicals responsible for this euphoric feeling. 

Before, it was believed that endorphins released by the brain were the sole cause of runner’s high. However, scientists suggest that endocannabinoids are a better candidate compared to endorphins. This switch is because endorphins do not make it past the blood-brain barrier.

Still, it should be noted that many brain-related chemical reactions trigger it. Here is a glimpse of these reactions.

Anandamide production

Anandamide is an endocannabinoid, a chemical responsible for the exhilarating feeling of marijuana’s 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the brain. 

Research shows that endocannabinoids possess small molecules, unlike endorphins, allowing them to cross the blood-brain barrier and act as receptors in the endocannabinoid system.

Researchers have found high levels of anandamide in athletes who have recently completed a high-intensity running workout. This triggers the runner’s high and results in several short-term psychoactive effects, including euphoria, reduced anxiety, and a sense of calm and positivity.

Unfortunately, there needs to be more research centered on the brain and body’s response to endocannabinoids, with the last significant study, research on mice, conducted way back in 2015.

Endorphins

According to a 2008 study carried out by German researchers, the prefrontal and limbic brain areas produce a very high level of endorphins in long-distance runners. The high endorphin release helps reduce pain, stress, and anxiety while boosting happiness, mood, and overall well-being.

While endorphins do support runners experiencing the infamous runner’s high, striking a balance between a good workout routine becomes a top necessity – engaging in too little physical activity will have no significant influence on achieving a runner’s high, and too intense a workout (running till you drop) will produce negative results.

While the theory of endorphins contributing to achieving this euphoric feeling was the norm back in the day, research shows that endorphins release straight into the muscles, reducing the pain the runner feels while running.

Furthermore, with endorphins having large molecules, they are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier.

How to Achieve Runner’s High?

Studies show that with runner’s high, you benefit from improved mood, reduced mental and physical stress, and increased feelings of pleasure. However, the euphoric feeling only comes naturally to some runners, even among experienced runners.

As such, there is a need to know how to tap into this state, as hard work alone will not cut it. In line with that, here are 5 tips to help you capture this elusive feeling.

#1 Set realistic goals

The runner’s high is more likely to occur if you set realistic goals for yourself and gradually build up your mileage. However, trying to do too much too soon is expected to lead to pain, injury, and burnout.

Likewise, you cannot stick to the same system over a prolonged period as you need to switch up your training routinely. That is because as your running improves, your body adapts to the challenges, and staying on one routine for prolonged periods will yield no positive results.

While there are different running workouts to choose from, you can take things further by finding running partners to help keep you motivated and on track with your training.

#2 Cross-train

In addition to running, participating in other forms of exercise can help to improve your overall fitness level and increase your chances of achieving runner’s high. For example, with cross-training, you can run several miles more than your regular best, putting your body in the best form to achieve it.

Cross-training is a popular technique used by runners to help improve their performance and reduce the risk of injury. By including activities such as swimming, cycling, and strength training in their regime, runners can help build endurance and increase the efficiency of their cardiovascular system. In addition, cross-training can also help to improve mental well-being and reduce stress levels.

#3 Eat healthily

Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do for your body. Before going on a long-distance run, it is vital to fuel your body with the right type of food. The point of this is that it provides your body with the energy it needs to sustain extended periods of exercise.

Runners who eat junk food are more likely to feel pain and experience fatigue during and after their exercise, which can prevent the runner’s high from occurring.

You should also prioritize drinking lots of water before, during, and after your exercise, as it prevents health problems that arise from dehydration.

#4 Be patient

The runner’s high doesn’t happen overnight – achieving it takes time and effort. But stick with it, and eventually, you will experience that feeling of euphoria that runners crave.

Remember that this feeling is a reward for consistency. Therefore, the more consistently you run, the more likely you will experience the runner’s high and the other benefits of running.

#5 Get proper sleep

Having a full night’s rest is one way to keep your body functioning optimally. That is because exercise leads to hypertrophy, and you need adequate rest to allow your body to heal. Eight hours of sleep also help with optimal endocannabinoid production.

While these tips will put you in a position to achieve a runner’s high, you can take things further by adding the Joggo fitness app to your training routine.

Joggo
Love from the first run
  • Personalized running plans created by professional coaches
  • Meal plans perfectly tailored to your current diet, allergies, and health needs
  • Treadmill mode for people preferring indoor running
  • Educational articles on easier running, injury prevention, nutrition, and more
  • Behavior science-based reward system for lasting motivation
Our rating:
4.7
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The Joggo app is a personalized workout trainer that allows runners to hit their goals easily. It features custom workout programs and meal plans and is suited for runners of all levels.

Joggo includes an easy-to-follow audio-guided training feature within the app that allows you to carry out your workout accurately. This means you can train efficiently, eat right, and stay off injuries, raising your chances of achieving the runner’s high.

You also benefit from improved mobility, weight loss, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular diseases when sticking to a proper exercising routine, guaranteed when using Joggo. 

How Long Does Runner’s High Last

Usually, it lasts 30 minutes to an hour after exercise. After that, the effects begin to wear off, and the person returns to their normal state.

The experience of a runner’s high can also vary depending on a number of factors, including the intensity of the exercise, the person’s fitness level, and their state of mind before starting the activity.

However, some people may experience the effects for several hours or even days afterward. So, if you’re looking for a natural way to boost your mood, start by hitting the pavement for a run!

FAQs

Is the runner’s high a real thing?

Yes, it is a real thing.

What does the runner’s high feel like?

Runner’s high simply translates to euphoria. It is a deeply relaxing feeling runners experience during or after running.

A Word From Our Coach

While runner’s high is a true experience amongst runners, it is not as common as many may think – not many get to unlock this feat with voluntary exercise. You have to reach a certain level before you are able to unlock this experience.

However, it is important to take your training on a day-to-day basis. As addictive as the runner’s high may sound, too much exercise can ultimately lead to injuries, which can prevent you from achieving your goals.

Overall, you should consult a professional trainer to help you achieve your running goals. They have the tools and the experience to guide you through the path until you experience this euphoria.

Conclusion

Now that we know what the runner’s high is and how to achieve it, there’s no excuse not to go out and hit the pavement. With a little bit of dedication and effort, anyone can experience that exhilarating feeling. So lace up your shoes and get moving!

Joggo
Love from the first run
  • Personalized running plans created by professional coaches
  • Meal plans perfectly tailored to your current diet, allergies, and health needs
  • Treadmill mode for people preferring indoor running
  • Educational articles on easier running, injury prevention, nutrition, and more
  • Behavior science-based reward system for lasting motivation
Our rating:
4.7
Start Free Quiz Now
Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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