New Insight Helps Explain the ‘Runner’s High’

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona has shed some light on why we as humans can experience pure joy from the act of running. A recent NY Times article has highlighted some of the fascinating aspects of the study.


Whether you run yourself or you know those who seemingly can’t skip their daily run, we can all agree there seems to be something at least mildly addictive about running.While we are likely familiar with the ‘feel good’ chemicals associated with running, perhaps we are most unattached from considering the evolution or this phenom.

On the most basic level, “we ran in search of dinner and away from predators,” as stated in the article by Gretchen Reynolds. If you think about it from a purely evolutionary standpoint, the ability to run from danger is what set apart those who survived from those who didn’t. However, this inherent need to run is actually one that costs our bodies precious energy so it may be a bit surprising that as humans we didn’t develop a different way to escape from danger.


The study focused in on this idea.


David A. Raichlen, one of the lead researchers, and his team looked specifically at the endocannabinoid system. This system releases chemicals that (as the name implies) are similar to the cannabis in marijuana. They are known to produce a pleasant feeling and are released as people engage in prolonged running or cycling activities. These chemicals are believed the produce some of the effects known as the ‘runner’s high.”


So are we the only ones who experience this kind of high as a result of exercise? Researchers set out to find the answer by  testing the effects of activity on 8 different breeds of dogs, ferrets (which are known for not moving around a whole lot) and of course, people. When put through a series of tests, it became apparent that dogs experienced the feel good hormones but ferrets however were not impacted at all. These results were obtained by taking a blood sample from each participant following 30 minutes on the treadmill at 70 percent of their maximum heart rate.


While these results produced a ‘runner’s high’ in dogs and their human friends, walking actually did not have the same impact on either of them.


It appears that running is inherently in our nature. So why are so many people considered obese or overweight in the United States? It appears many people have also developed the ability to simply ignore this desire to run. Overcome with distractions and unhealthy foods, this human desire is often unknowingly suppressed.

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