High times: Science proves there is a runner’s high

Feels so good: Many of these Marines taking part in a recent marathon in Washington, D.C., likely felt the effects of a runner's high during or after their effort.Courtesy Monica Darby
Don’t you just hate those perky people who come back from a long run or a hard workout and tell you how great they feel? Well, they’re probably not pulling the con job that I always thought was the case. Science has now proven that theoretical runner’s high actually exists.

Ever since the running/jogging craze kicked into high gear in the 1970s, zealots of the craze have extolled the virtues of the runner’s high they experienced. Those in the scientific world figured there might be something to it, that the act of intense working out could produce endorphins in the body that could elevate a person’s feeling of pleasure. But they had now way of measuring that.

Thanks to research being done by scientists in Germany, ways of tracking those endorphins have now been discovered. Researchers at the University of Bonn, who had been studying pain in the body, realized that their same methods could be used to measure the runner’s high. Results of the studied were reported in a story in the New York Times last week.

Here’s how it worked. The researchers conducted PET scans of runners’ brains before and after two-hour runs. The runners knew they were part of a study, but were not told they were being gauged for the effects of runner’s high. Along with the scans, the runners also filled out questionnaires following each run to measure their current mood.

The scans found that indeed more endorphins were being released in the runners’ bodies during their workouts. In fact, they were attaching themselves in the same portion of the brain that are active in emotional reactions like romance or emotion. Runners whose tests showed that they were in the best moods following their runs also showed more endorphins going to their brains.

Not all runners get the experience to the same degree and researchers want to find out why, and possibly how low-endorphin runners can increase their endorphin production.

The Germans are also now moving into a new phase of their study, to see if the endorphin release in physical activity can have an impact on pain felt by the athletes. They have heard stories of people running on broken legs or while suffering a heart attack and not being hampered in their workout. They want to see if there’s science to back up those stories.

BTW: I just want to go on record here and now to volunteer as a participant in any future studies that measure endorphin production while eating chocolate or pizza.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JARVIS's picture
JARVIS says:

I have thought this was true for a long time. I like to work out all the time and I always feel great afterward. I love to run and I dont know why people do it more often.

posted on Thu, 05/08/2008 - 8:51am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Drug users should switch over to running because they will still get a high and it will now actually be healthy for them.

posted on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 4:44pm

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