Whether you’re a dedicated marathoner, an occasional jogger, or trying out running as a new pastime, the one thing that can help you stay dedicated is the “runner’s high”! Aside from helping you hit your daily step goals, runner’s high can also offer benefits when you’re not jogging - including bolstering your mental wellness.
What is runner’s high?
Runner’s high is a phrase used to describe a state of relaxed euphoria induced by around 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise like running or jogging. Sometimes, runner’s high hits at the exact right time to boost a runner’s flagging energy levels. Not everyone who partakes in these activities achieves the “high,” although many people do report an improvement in mood or reduction in feelings of anxiety.
What causes runner’s high?
Recent research has deeper explored the phenomenon of runner’s high with interesting results. For years, because endorphins were measurably increased in the body after exercise, it was thought that the blissful feeling of runner’s high could be attributed to their release. Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced within the brain and central nervous system which can help mitigate physical pain and provide feelings of happiness. However, the molecular size of an endorphin is too large to cross the blood-brain barrier. Additionally, some research subjects were able to experience runner’s high even when their physical response to endorphins was blocked.
Instead, studies conducted with both animal and human subjects have shown that the likely source of runner’s high is endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are molecules produced in your body as part of your endocannabinoid system, and they are often released during pleasurable and physically active exertions.
While the immediate feeling of bliss and energy that accompanies runner’s high is its most noticeable effect, regular physical activity like running offers other desirable benefits as well. This includes improved mental wellbeing and cognitive ability, and an overall reduction in feelings of stress.
A paper co-authored by a biologist and a paleoanthropologist theorizes that runner’s high served an evolutionary benefit for our distant ancestors. It is believed that it helped them to ignore physical pain and hunger and motivated them to cover long distances during travel, hunting, or foraging. Definitely an example to remember next time you’re hitting the wall on a jog!
Taking care of your body to run
Especially if you’re just starting out, recognizing that running or jogging is a high-impact physical activity is essential to enjoying its health benefits long-term, without undesirable wear on your body. You don’t need to already have an existing rigorous fitness routine before you start jogging, but preparation can help protect your body - your knees and feet, especially - from the negative side effects of running. While runner’s high can have many benefits, don’t use its motivation to push beyond what is healthy or comfortable for you!
Here are some easy ways to make sure you’re supporting your body’s resilience - which ultimately, will let you keep enjoying the activities you love.
- Train your form and gait - if you just pop on a pair of sneakers and go, you might intuitively start to jog in a way that can cause long-term wear and tear on your feet, legs, and knees. Do some research and spend time jogging slowly and intentionally to begin. Train your running movements to avoid heel striking, maintain a slight lean forward, and keep your knees “bouncy” and soft.
- Stay off the concrete - it might be less convenient than just heading out your front door, but if you can find a track or a trail to run on, softer ground surfaces are much less punishing for your body than the impact of your steps on hard concrete sidewalks or roadways.
- Get your stretch on - it’s recommended to stretch both before and after running. Warming up first and stretching your muscles before running can both improve your performance and your mobility. Stretching out after your run can help you cool down, prevent stiffness in your muscles, and benefit your flexibility.
- Cross-train - while running can be great for targeting your cardiovascular fitness and getting high-intensity activity, including other physical practices can round out your routine. Yoga can help bolster your ease of mobility and flexibility, while strength training can improve your foundation of muscle strength.
- Support through supplements - many serious runners have a whole complex routine for supplementation, but it’s not absolutely necessary, especially if you’re just breaking in your running shoes! Collagen is an outstanding option to consider due to its targeted ability to support cartilage and joint health, help maintain muscle mass, and aid in muscle recovery after a workout.
Collagen is also simple to include in your routine - you can add it to your morning coffee, or in an easy, after-run protein shake. Be sure to source a high-quality, sustainably sourced collagen for optimal results.