Recent Studies

Runner’s High | Recent Studies | Article-Research

by Raquel Torres

A runner’s high is exactly what it sounds like: a “high” triggered by running or other high-intensity aerobic exercises like cycling or rowing. But what does runner’s high feel like? People who’ve experienced it report feeling euphoric, as well as incredibly calm and relaxed. According to Harvard Health, aerobic exercise can bring about positive feelings because of the changes to your body, including a capacity to provide stimulation, remove stress, counteract depression, and improve your spirit. This accumulation of emotions contributes to a runner’s high, which is described as a euphoria, a gain of energy, weightlessness, effortlessness, or living in an altered state (such as taking drugs).

Since the 1980s, runner’s high was thought to be caused by chemicals called endorphins. Have you ever heard?: “Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy!”

But now, scientists aren’t convinced that endorphins should get all the credit. The real culprit might be endocannabinoids, a group of chemicals in your body that act like the compounds in marijuana that cause a high. Endorphins bind to what are known as opioid receptors on neurons all over your body, affecting other chemical signaling that your brain interprets as pain. Because endorphins can cause pain relief in your muscles, they were thought to cause all the feel-good parts of runner’s high. But endorphins, it turns out, are too big to pass through the blood-brain barrier, a highly selective membrane that protects the brain from potentially harmful stuff in the bloodstream.

So they probably don’t cause the general feelings of happiness that come with runner’s high, because they’re not interacting with brain cells. Instead, scientists think it might be the endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids interact with the same systems in your brain as the THC in marijuana does, but your body naturally makes them. They’re involved in things like soothing anxiety and reducing pain sensitivity.

Again for decades, scientists believed endorphins were responsible for a runner’s high. It makes sense — they do have a great deal of beneficial effects. But in recent years, research has revealed that endorphins may not have much to do with it after all. Instead, new research points to another type of molecule: endocannabinoids.

How Does The Runner’s High Work

Runners achieve psychological benefits from running due to the combination of endocannabinoids and endorphins created in the body.

Endorphins are neurochemicals released naturally by your body. They’re made by your central nervous system and pituitary gland.
Endorphins act on the same part of your brain as opioids like morphine. That’s why they’re called the “happy” chemicals. They’re released during exercise or in times of pain or stress. Endorphins, however, are large molecules. Of course, they’re microscopic and can’t be seen by the naked eye — but when compared with other chemicals in the body, they’re considered large.

And their size prevents them from crossing the blood-brain barrier. This is an impediment in the body that keeps your brain safe from certain pathogens and molecules. Endorphins are one of those molecules that can’t cross over to your brain.

This means endorphins can’t actually be responsible for a runner’s high — it must be something else.

Substances produced by the body called endocannabinoids perform their work in the brain and are similar to the high cannabis can bring. These endocannabinoids can create the effervescent feeling runners feel when working out, like a high after smoking cannabis. These molecules act on your endocannabinoid system, but it is acquired naturally, not from smoking or consuming any form of drugs. This is the same system that’s affected by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active compound in cannabis.
These molecules are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, and they act on receptors in your endocannabinoid system.

A type of endocannabinoid called anandamide is found at high levels in the blood of people who’ve recently completed a run. Some research suggests anandamide may trigger a runner’s high. This results in short-term psychoactive effects like: a calm feeling, reduced anxiety and/or euphoria.

Like endorphins, exercise releases endocannabinoids into the bloodstream. If you feel euphoric or deeply relaxed after a run, these molecules may be the responsible party.
In 2015, a group of researchers showed that mice produced more of an endocannabinoid called anandamide after running on a wheel for around 6 kilometers
To test for the pain relief that comes with runner’s high, mice who ran and mice who didn’t were placed on a hot plate to cause pain. And the mice who ran had more anandamide in their blood and took longer to get noticeably agitated on the hot plate.

What’s the right Intensity and volume to achieve the runners high?

“The research seems to indicate a moderate intensity and moderate duration endurance exercise can maximize the release of endocannabinoids—specifically, an intensity in the range of 70% to 85% of age-adjusted maximum heart rate,” says Dr. Frost. | Jeremy Frost, PhD, director of the Holbrook Exercise Physiology Center and an associate professor at Minnesota State University | “A tempo, or threshold, run is likely to fall into this range, so this type of training might create the greatest likelihood of feeling these sensations.” Says Dr. Frost.

Longer Runs
Cardiovascular endurance goes hand in hand with this. After all, you’ll need to increase your stamina and the length of your runs in order to prime yourself for a possible runner’s high. Current research indicates that you’ll need at least 30 minutes of relatively intense cardiovascular exercise to get to this point, though some experts believe longer may be better, with the sweet spot being between an hour and two hours.

Benefits of a Runner’s High
● Happy feelings
● Stress reduction
● Make the run or exercise more enjoyable
● Feel that you could keep running longer
● Pain sensation reduction
Other benefits of running
● Reduced anxiety
● Reduced feelings of depression
● Increased memory and focus
● Increased flexibility and improved mobility
● Increased immune system
● Improved response to insulin
● Weight loss or maintenance

A runner’s high is not a guarantee for everyone who laces up and takes off to pound pavement. Other benefits are more likely and just as beneficial in many ways

Raquel Torres, MBA es una USAT Elite Certified Coach, una Entrenadora de Triatlón y Triatleta Profesional. Raquel también escribe blogs para varias revistas y su equipo Athletic Mentors. Desde el mes de Mayo del 2021 contribuye como columnista con el periódico CNY Latino. Ella comparte consejos y tácticas para ayudar a otros a encontrar su mejor versión. Para leer acerca de ella, diríjase a y búsquela por su nombre. También puede enviarle preguntas ó comentarios sobre su columna al siguiente correo: y visitar su página web al

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