How Does a Runner’s High Work?

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Feel the fastness flow through you.

For every kind of task that warrants some degree of concentration, there is a separate version of “The Zone (TM).” Whatever it is you’re actually doing, when you enter The Zone, it’s almost as though your body optimizes itself toward your task, redistributing mental and physical power to best accomplish it. For a brief, magical few minutes, your task is your entire existence. It’s honestly kind of beautiful. For runners, there exists a special spin-off of The Zone that only they can achieve: the runner’s high.

Have you ever completed a long, grueling run, but instead of feeling tired, you feel energized and eager for more? That’s the power of the runner’s high. Not everyone is capable of achieving this state, but those who do report a feeling of calm, relaxation, and near-euphoria after they’ve been running for a while. This is actually a result of special chemicals that are released into your blood known as endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are similar to endorphins in that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and activate your brain’s receptors. Recent research has shown athletes who complete long runs have heightened amounts of these enzymes in their systems, which is what provides the calming effect commonly seen in a runner’s high. It’s actually very similar to the process in which THC from cannabis gets someone high, amusingly enough.

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For those who are capable of achieving a runner’s high, it makes running an even better form of exercise. In addition to the natural benefits good cardio affords to your legs and circulatory system, regularly achieving a runner’s high has been known to reduce chronic feelings of anxiety and stress. After all, who’s got time to be stressed when you’re brain’s so focused on running?