Every runner or fitness buff knows that feeling at the beginning of their workout routine. You probably woke up early to hit the track before the sun was out. You start your run feeling heavy, your breathing labored, and your knees start to complain before you even begin. But you push on to finish the 10 miles you set out for the day.
Somewhere along the way, something happens. Your lungs suddenly open, breathing becomes easier, pain diminishes, and this surge of energy makes you feel as though you could climb Mt. Everest.
This thrilling phenomenon is known as the runner's high. For a long time, it was attributed to the release of endorphins, but recent research suggests that this might not be the case after all. In this article, we delve into the runner's high to understand what it is and how we can reach this state faster during exercise.
How the Body Responds to Intense Physical Activity
The runner’s high is a state of physical and mental euphoria that some people experience after intense exercise. It is often described as a sense of floating in the air or having a burst of motivation to train longer. Various exercises can induce the runners' high, including running, high-interval intensity training, and cardio exercises like aerobics.
On a normal day when you are at rest or lazing around the house, your body uses the parasympathetic nervous system to keep your breathing, heart rate, and metabolism in a balanced state.
During an intense physical workout, however, there is an increased demand on the body. This activates the sympathetic response, which increases the heart rate, dilates your airwaves, and releases adrenaline. These functions help your body deal with the increased stress.
After a prolonged period of intense exercise, the body takes an extra step and activates the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
This is a system of neurotransmitters, receptors, and enzymes that help regulate different processes in the body like mood and pain sensation. When triggered, the ECS reduces pain perception, creates a feeling of ecstasy, and elevates your workout routine
Scientists have yet to fully understand the connection between the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the ECS. However, studies
have shown that these systems both work together to help the body deal with the stress of intense physical activity.
The Science Behind the Elusive Runner’s High