Ranked right up there with the Loch Ness Monster and Shangri-La, the “runner’s high” is one of the most elusive yet sought-after myths in modern lore. But is it a real biochemical response or just marathoners trying to justify spending their whole Saturday running? The anecdotal evidence is mixed: for people who get a runner’s high it’s not only real but amazing; but for people who’ve never had one it can seem like a whole lot of hooey. Fortunately a fairly new study in The Journal of Experimental Biology tests this out and the results are very interesting!
Q: Is the runner’s high real?
A: Researchers measured endocannabinoids (a brain chemical that indicates increased pleasure) in humans, dogs and ferrets both before and after a run. What they found was that humans and dogs both experience a large increase in the endocannabinoids after a 30-minute treadmill run. The ferrets on the other hand experienced no increase which the researchers postulate is because ferrets as a species aren’t runners while humans and dogs are.
Q: Can everyone get a runner’s high?
A: Unless you are ferret, yes. It may just not be immediately. While we all have the same brain chemicals, the researchers found that there is a tipping point for achieving the pleasure response and that point has everything to do with the intensity of your exercise. David Raichlen, the lead author, explains, “Inactive people may not be fit enough to hit the exercise intensity that leads to this sort of rewarding sensation.”
Q: Does this mean less fit runners just lose out?
A: Raichlen says that he is confident “that inactive individuals can be helped to build up their exercise tolerance until they cross the threshold where they become motivated to exercise by endocannabinoids.”
Q: How do you train to get a runner’s high?
A: Two factors influence the release of the endocannabinoids: intensity and duration. It appears that for most people they need to run a minimum of 20 minutes before they start to feel the party start. If extending your run alone isn’t helping you achieve a high then increase the intensity of your run by mixing in short sprints or tempo runs.
Q: How exactly do they make ferrets run on treadmills? Are there teeny tiny ferret treadmills? Do they tie them on? Do the ferrets complain about the TV only showing CNN too?
A: No seriously, I really wish I knew.
For myself, I do get a high when I workout, particularly when I do cardio. But it does take me about 20 minutes of running (or kickboxing or spinning) before I stop thinking about how much pain I’m in and start feeling good. Back when I first started running I would force myself to go for at least 20 minutes because I knew that even though I hated every step at the beginning, if I could hold out I’d feel aMAYzing by the end!
Do you get a runner’s high? Did you have to train yourself to get one or has it always come naturally?