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This Is What's Actually Happening In Your Brain When You Get A Runner's High

While running can sometimes feel like the most challenging and uncomfortable thing you've ever done with your body, you've probably heard of something called “a runner's high.” And I'll bet you probably envy those who have told you they've actually experienced the phenomenon. But what exactly is a runner's high, and what's going on in your brain when it happens?

The phenomenon doesn't just refer to feeling generally happy — it's about a more positive outlook on life, and a reduced ability to feel physical pain.

Elite Daily spoke with personal trainer Michael Mackin from MM Fitness, to learn more about what a runner's high really feels like from a first-person perspective.


Mackin describes the sensation as an “untouchable feeling and sense of calm.”

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So what is it exactly about running that can make your mind, body, and spirit feel so freaking rad, to the point where it can actually become addictive to people as a way to relieve stress?

Well, there isn't really a short answer.

While there is some debate as to whether or not the runner's high is actually a real and provable thing, the underlying cause of the euphoria has a lot to do with endorphins — although that's only a small part of the whole equation.

As you may well know, in any kind of exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are neurochemicals produced by your central nervous system and pituitary gland when your body is under stress or feels physical strain.


Endorphins, chemically speaking, are actually very similar to the drug morphine.

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Both will make you feel sublimely good and relaxed, while they also work to reduce pain signals.

Mackin tells Elite Daily, while a rush of endorphins definitely comes with a good run, a study done in Germany revealed there's also an increase of the chemical compound endocannabinoid in the blood.

The study's research, which was done on a control group of mice, showed that the brain's endocannabinoid system is activated after long runs. So, even when endorphin receptors are blocked, the effects of a runner's high — like decreased anxiety and decreased ability to feel pain — can still persist.


And, interestingly enough, this is the same part of your brain that responds to THC, the active compound in weed that makes you feel relaxed AF when you smoke.

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So, yes, a runner's high is in fact pretty similar to that other kind of high, my dudes. 

Of course, in the instance of the mice, feeling positive or euphoric is not something the researchers can really measure. But it did shed light on how this kind of exercise lends itself to both a psychological and physical reward system.

So go lace up your sneakers and get “high,” my friends.

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Annakeara Stinson

Staff Writer

Annakeara is a writer and all around barrel of laughs based in Brooklyn.
Annakeara is a writer and all around barrel of laughs based in Brooklyn.

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