Image used under Flickr CCLi. Photo by Flickr user mjk23
As a runner for many years, I am familiar with the runner’s high. It is a feeling of intense satisfaction, inner calm, and focused bliss that is rare to come by any other way.
Of course, the runner’s high is a known phenomena and is experienced by many who exercise intensely. (My own definition of runner’s high does not include feeling euphoric or light-headed; those I always take to be a bad sign.)
But what exactly is a runner’s high? A Scientific American article details a few theories are in vogue to explain this experience.
One of the theories suggest that endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins, are produced during intense exercise. These endorphins are related to the numbing of pain as well as the release of dopamine, which makes strenuous exercise so pleasurable.
There is also the production of endogenous cannabinoids during exercise which may lead to the pleasure effect. A major effect of all of these chemicals released by the body is the blunting of pain and it is theorized that evolution offered us this advantage to allow us to keep running. Humans have evolved to run, mainly because it was their way of running down animals to hunt for food.
Of course, much of the feelings related to the runner’s high may simply be psychological; achievement of a difficult goal in intense and long-duration exercise is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.