What is a Runners High?
I was nearly at the finish line, after thrashing past the other runners trying to get ahead of me, it was finally over, feeling exhausted I had done it, I had finished the race.
This was the last time I was in a proper running race, when I was about 10. I never liked it, but always felt great after it.
As an adult, I prefer other forms of exercise, and most of my time is filled up doing Pilates. However, I think running has many positive benefits, both aerobically and mentally for helping to lift depression and anxiety in some people.
Many people love running, but do some people do it to create a runners high?
If you are a runner you would have experienced it. This euphoric feeling as the endorphins rush through your body making you feel alive or energized.
We had the marathon here in Jersey recently, and I watched as runners fought through their exhaustion to keep going. I wondered why they did it? to challenge themselves? for fitness? to raise money for charity? or to get the prize money? It could be all of these things of course, but what if it was also because they wanted to create a runners high, is it addictive?
One women had done 30 marathons in thirty days, what an amazing accomplishment. Is she addicted I thought?
So let’s have a look at the science behind it.
What is the Runners High?
There is some conflict to what some people think a runner’s high is. If runner’s high is simply an increase in endorphins, this is difficult to measure because endorphins do not cross the blood brain barrier, so you could only measure it by looking at the brain.
However, one researcher did find a way Boecker et al, used a technique called collateral position tomography. This used radioactive tracers to measure endorphin levels, which showed that endorphins were increased after running.
Other research suggest that runners high is due to a class of chemicals called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids cause similar effects to the active compounds in cannabis, such as relaxation, stress reduction, pain relief and a general sense of wellbeing.
P.B Sparling at the university of California believes that it isn’t just the endorphins but a combination of psychoactive compounds that are released after exercise that boost your mood and raise your energy levels.
Is it then possible to get addicted to this feeling if it makes you feel so good? and is there a downside?
Boecher et al, thought that it could be addictive since the opiate effects of runners high might be responsible for mood boosting effects of exercise but also the withdrawal symptoms. Negative effects of this might be exercising whilst injured and doing excessive exercise.
Can foods give you the same runners high?
There are certain foods that contain Opiates that could be responsible for the same addictive properties that make us keep going back for more. In fact our first food, breast milk contains opiates, perhaps this was mothers natures way of making sure a baby came back for more and increased bonding. I certainly remember my son looking like he was on an endorphin high after breast feeding, and then promptly falling asleep, which is fine if it wasn’t so early in the morning.
Other foods such as wheat and cows milk also contain opiates. Which could also be the reason why a number of people find bread so difficult to give up. Cows milk itself is intended to sedate and placate a wild calf. The main protein in cheese, casein breaks down and releases opiates into the blood stream.
Other Addictive opiate foods include sugar. When sugar is released it triggers the release of feel good chemicals in the brain, like a runners high. Coffee is another opiate food, which might explain why some people need to have their morning coffee when they first get up in the morning, aside from the caffeine in it of course.
We know that consuming sugar is related to a number of health issues, and the sodium and fat in cheese is also not a good option.
Knowing what some of the opiate foods are, certainly explains why we can become addicted, but consuming them may not be the healthiest option.
So if you are not a runner, and want to avoid the addictive opiate foods, what else can you do to release feel good hormones?
Taking a Break, it might seem obvious but getting out of the office and going for a walk, changing your environment can have a real positive effect. Not only will you get a bit of exercise, mentally you can switch off from your work for a short time, and focus on something else.
Sunshine,making the most of the sunshine. Most people feel better in the summer months, probably from the effects of sunshine, producing more vitamin D, sunshine will help increase your serotonin levels, you just have to be careful not to have too much.
Massage, having a massage helps stimulate the release of endorphins, relaxes you and helps relieve achy muscles.
Meditation, there have been numerous studies done, on how meditation can help lift your mood, by helping your nervous system, meditating can help raise your serotonin level and reduce stress.
Laughing, learning to laugh is sometimes the best medicine, which is sometimes hard, but you might need to create situations, such as meeting with friends, watching a comedy and finding something to read that makes you laugh instead of making you feel sad. Its far better to go to bed with a funny thought in your mind before you go to sleep than a sad one, so best avoiding reading the news just before bed!
Exercise, exercise has long been known to lift your spirits, so if you are not a runner, find some type of exercise you do like, such as walking, cycling, swimming or yoga or Pilates. Pilates and Yoga both have a mind body connection, and when you are thinking about your breathing or your movement, you are not thinking about work or what you need to cook for dinner, your mind is relaxing.