Most people are familiar with the concept of “runner’s high.” For those that are not intimately acquainted with the concept of runner’s high, individuals who participate in high endurance and, or, high intensity running often report feelings of euphoria after or during these activities. However, until recently there has not been a way to test the claims that runners have long made about this mood altering state.
The hypothesis of a runner’s high has not been tested because the only available technology to test the concept would have involved a spinal tap to measure endorphins in the brain. However, recently a group of German scientists used PET scans in conjunction with new chemicals that show endorphins in the brain to test the validity of runner’s high. The study, which was reported in the journal Cerebral Cortex, confirmed the long time reports of runner’s high. The following is an excerpt of an article from the New York Times that discusses the study and runner’s high in general:
But now medical technology has caught up with exercise lore. Researchers in Germany, using advances in neuroscience, report in the current issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex that the folk belief is true: Running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain. The endorphins are associated with mood changes, and the more endorphins a runner’s body pumps out, the greater the effect.
Leading endorphin researchers not associated with the study said they accepted its findings.
“Impressive,” said Dr. Solomon Snyder, a neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins and a discoverer of endorphins in the 1970’s.
“I like it,” said Huda Akil, a professor of neurosciences at the University of Michigan. “This is the first time someone took this head on. It wasn’t that the idea was not the right idea. It was that the evidence was not there.”
For athletes, the study offers a sort of vindication that runner’s high is not just a New Agey excuse for their claims of feeling good after a hard workout.
For athletes and nonathletes alike, the results are opening a new chapter in exercise science. They show that it is possible to define and measure the runner’s high and that it should be possible to figure out what brings it on. They even offer hope for those who do not enjoy exercise but do it anyway. These exercisers might learn techniques to elicit a feeling that makes working out positively addictive.