Capturing Runner’s High

Earlier this year, scientists in Sweden stumbled upon the possibility of developing a drug that would induce the desire to exercise. While the development of such a drug is still the early phases, there is another mechanism that can induce an addictive desire to move – something all natural.

This natural mechanism is more affectionately known as runner’s high. The question is, can you  capture it?

Gina Kolata, a favorite science writer for the New York Times discusses this power, in her 2003 non-fiction novel, Ultimate Fitness: the Quest for the Truth about Exercise and Health. In an interview with one athlete, she asked about his encounters with runner’s high. He was very honest in relating his experiences with this phenomenon to his younger years when he experimented with cocaine. He equaled runner’s high to a cocaine high.

Researchers that have studied the effects of runner’s high on the brain have related the cause to a “rush of endorphins,” similar to the effects of consuming chocolate. However, even if you consume a steady amount of chocolate, the effects from those first three bites are unlikely to be duplicated in rapid succession or last for an extended period of time. Could it be that unlike the olfactory system, which tires in a short time with consistent exposure, the effects of strenuous exercise only increase the release of endorphins, leading to glorious addiction? Many avid exercisers would say, “Yes.”

Kolata’s book details various athletes’ and exercise enthusiasts’ quests to feel “the rush” – day in and day out – to the point that it interferes with their lives as much as a real drug habit. So, how can you “catch the spirit”?

According to a few of Kolata’s other interviewees, runner’s high simply does not exist. These individuals have exercised vigorously and strenuously, day after day, but it is not a runner’s high that keeps them coming back for more. No, it is a fear that the only thing worse than exercise is death. Why chance it?

Kolata speculates, “The problem with mythologizing the elusive experience known as runner’s high, it seems, is that it is unpredictable, it eludes rigorous definition, it is impossible to measure in a human being, and it is entirely unclear whether one person’s high is biochemically the same event as what another person describes as a high.”

Speculation exists, in a very non-scientific format, that the runner’s high is the result of an addictive personality. While exercise is definitely a better addiction than say, drugs or alcohol, any addiction, in the truest sense of the word is never a good thing. Of course, that is a whole other story.

You won’t know until you try (exercise that is.) Recommending you push your body and mind to the excess of your limitations in the hope that will become addicted is hardly the lesson. It is however, recommended that you seek to challenge yourself – consistently over a period of time – until you reach that point when you can supersede your limits. You just might find yourself bathed in a new emotion that triggers a life you never knew could exist – a life of pleasurable wellness.


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