What causes a runner’s high?

Runner’s high: find out the causes, what it feels like and how long it lasts

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

23 April 2021

What causes a runner’s high?

A runner's high is caused by endocannabinoids which create a positive feeling when released by the endocannabinoid system during a run. Chemicals called endorphins are also known to be released whilst running and help to boost mood. Meanwhile, dopamine causes positive emotions when goals relating to running are made and set.

3 causes of a runner’s high

The positive feeling that many people experience during or after a run is known as a 'runner's high'. This phenomenon comes about when a particular molecule is released but is also linked to two chemicals that are produced during the course of a run.

Let's take a look at these chemicals and molecules in a little more detail to find out the causes of a runner's high.

1. Endocannabinoids

Running can activate the endocannabinoid system, which may have a part to play in causing the elevated feeling during this activity. (1) At this time, molecules known as endocannabinoids are released into the bloodstream and these may be responsible for part of the runner's high.

2. Endorphins

Endorphins are well-known for their ability to influence mood. These are chemicals produced by the brain in response to exercise. They can induce a positive feeling, but also act as natural painkillers and may reduce symptoms such as stress and anxiety.

Endorphins are also thought to play a part in how often we want to exercise. As it creates a positive feeling, many people continually seek this out and, in doing so, become hooked on regular exercise.

3. Dopamine

Dopamine has also been linked to the positive feelings associated with running. Dopamine is produced by the brain and then used by the nervous system. It is sometimes called reward-based because you get a boost of dopamine by setting and achieving goals. In doing this, dopamine helps to make us feel happy.

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What does a runner's high feel like?

A runner's high can make you feel very energetic, chatty and positive. Most people feel very happy after a run and motivated to keep up the activity.

How long do you have to run for runner's high?

The positive feelings associated with running can be experienced fairly quickly. A run or jog of around 30 minutes is enough to release endorphins and get you feeling upbeat.

Why don’t I get runner's high?

If you regularly do the same running routes in terms of distance and speed, this could be the reason you don't get a runner's high. It may simply be the case that your body has gotten used to doing this activity and so the runner's high isn't so easy to achieve.

How do I increase my runner's high?

If you don't experience a runner's high or the feeling isn't particularly significant, try changing up your running routine. You could do some sprints, intervals or even longer distances to see if it brings back the runner's high. Alternatively, join a running club where you can challenge your body a little bit more than usual.

Does runner's high go away?

Runner's high will usually last for a short period after the initial exercise. If you exercise in the evening, for example, the high will usually last until you head to bed. Overnight, all those chemicals begin to settle down and, come morning, you'll be back to your normal self – until your next run, that is!

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