What is a Runner’s High?

Posted 10/12/2015 | By HealthCorps

Have you ever felt a “runner’s high”? No, it’s not your imagination. When you run and feel a sense of well-being and freedom, energized and alive, you are indeed experiencing a phenomenon called a runner’s high. According to a new study, that special feeling induced by running is due to dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain.

Leptin, a hormone involved in hunger, also plays a role in this process. If you carry more fat in your body, you will have higher levels of leptin. The more leptin there is, the less you feel like engaging with physical activity. Leptin may play a role in “motivation to move,” and when levels are low (because you have less fat) it may motivate you to run and go get food.

Researchers theorize that this phenomenon may date back to when we needed motivation to seek food. In times of famine or cold weather, when humans may have been prone to losing weight (and our fat stores), the body’s secretion of leptin, may have provided the incentive to “run towards food.” Experts believe that endurance running may have evolved, especially in mammals like humans, to initiate maximal chances of finding food. So when food was scarce, the need to run was instigated. Once food was found, the payoff was the runner’s high, with secretion of dopamine and a boost to our mood. Low leptin levels back then served to increase our motivation to exercise.

Experts theorize that rats, mice, and humans evolved with behaviors to seek food when food is scarce. The problem is that food is no longer scarce for many humans. Even if we run for an hour a day, that exercise effort may not balance the amount of food we choose to eat, especially if we sit for the rest of the day at a desk in an office. That’s why most fitness experts recommend movement throughout the day. You need to get up at least every 60-90 minutes, to stretch and move around, in order to boost circulation and your metabolism. Becoming a runner can be a great way to burn calories, improve your aerobic health and boost dopamine.

Here are some tips to follow if you’d like to start running:

• Consider starting with a walking program and then transition into a jogging program.
• Then introduce short one to five minute run intervals within a 45-60 minute jogging program.
• Use slower run days as recovery days, in between faster running days
• Consider weight training two or three days a week and include upper and lower body training.
• Always check with your doctor before beginning a new challenging exercise program

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