“Runner’s high” is one of the closest things the fitness world has to a Holy Grail. It’s a lofty and alluring goal, but it’s difficult to reach and defies easy definition.
The phenomenon of experiencing euphoric or exhilarating feelings after a sustained bout of running or another intense cardio exercise has been linked for decades to the release of endorphins, or “feel-good” hormones, throughout the body.
Endorphins do act to reduce pain while we exercise, but more recent research suggests the likeliest source of a runner’s high is endocannabinoids, neurotransmitters that are our brain’s version of THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana.
This high is not exclusive to running, but it may be more pronounced during steadier, more rhythmic activities like running, swimming, cycling and rowing.
Wherever it comes from, runner’s high does feel sensational and enables you to push yourself farther. But it can be short-lived, and it doesn’t happen to everyone. It can be a long road for a beginner athlete to maintain the approximately 45 to 60 minutes of exercising at around 75% of your maximum capacity that triggers it.
The fitter you get, the longer you need to work out to get to that point; consistent training is key.
You’ll know when you get there
Runner’s high is going to feel a little different for everyone, but many who have experienced it describe it as an intense happiness, confidence, optimism and relaxation. It can feel like it’s easier:
- To keep moving than to stop.
- To attain a sense of renewed energy and strength.
- To experience a clearer mind, with all stress dissipating.
Perceptions of discomfort and pain are reduced or eliminated, and after you finish a race you’re raring to sign up for another.
The longevity of runner’s high varies widely, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.
If you’re having a hard time hitting that euphoric stage, or it doesn’t last as long as you hoped, just remember the other emotional benefits to vigorous exercise, including reduced depression and anxiety and improved memory and focus.