I’ve run on average 5 days a week for the last few years now. Have run a couple of marathons and other races and yet the runner’s high has remained elusive to me. Sure, running helps get rid of some of my anxiety or nervousness, but I wouldn’t call that a high or a euphoria.
Turns out something’s wrong with me cause after 30 years of speculation, they determined that the runner’s high does exist!
A German study sought to unravel the mechanism of the runner’s high and identify the relationship to perceived euphoria. 10 athletes were PET scanned on 2 separate occasions at rest and after 2 hour endurance runs (21.5 ±4.7km) in a random order. They also completed questionnaires to rate their moods at rest and after their run.
The researchers found that during the run, endorphins were produced, attaching themselves to areas of the brain associated with mood and this was correlated with a more euphoric mood.
Interestingly, according to lead researcher Dr. Boecker, the same areas of the brain that are activated during a run are also activated when people are involved in romantic love affairs!
The study was small- only 10 participants- and the level of athleticism wasn’t very high (21.5 km in 2 hours)- so although interesting, the study should be repeated on a greater number of people of varying athletic levels, in my opinion. I'd also be interested to find out if the same high is experienced by other types of athletes, including weight lifters.
In a follow-up study, Dr. Boecker is investigating if running affects pain perception. We've all heard stories of athletes running through passing of kidney stones or stress fractures, so the results should be interesting. They've recruited 20 marathon runners and a similar number of nonathletes and are studying the perception of pain after a run, and whether they are related changes in brain scans. He is also having the subjects walk to see whether the effects, if any, are because of the intensity of the exercise.
Perhaps running in shorts for the first time in a while this week will give me some of that elusive high... I’ll keep you posted!
Thanks to Leandra (via Ingy's facebook) for this study!