Runner's High: Is It for Real?
Is this feeling of euphoria the real deal? More importantly, is it enough to get you across the finish line?
More High, Less Low
While runner's high might be more short-term, it's well-known that regular
exercise also offers long-term benefits, on both the mind and the body.
"On average, you tend to see people who are runners and habitual
exercisers having better moods, suffering from less depression and less anxiety, and more general
feelings of well-being," says Bryant. "For people who are physically
active on a regular basis, they have active relaxation -- kind of by moving the
body and focusing on the sensation of moving your body and getting into the
rhythmic activity and motion, it produces this relaxation response, and that I
think contributes significantly to the feelings of psychological
While marathon running can take its toll on the body, it does offer
significant benefits as well.
"Clearly, there are many health benefits of running at this level,"
says Rick Hall, MS, a registered dietitian and advisory board member of the
Arizona Governor's Council on Health, Physical Fitness, and Sports. "A
smart marathon runner has put in many hours of training for many weeks or
months, before the event, and the health benefits of sustained aerobic exercise
are well documented: improved circulation, reduced body fat, lowered blood
cholesterol, and better self-esteem."
For many people, the thought of running 26.2 miles is simply out of the
question. Does that mean they'll never get to experience the euphoric feeling
of runner's high? Not necessarily.
"The research suggests that a wide variety of activities can produce
this effect," says Bryant.
Whether it's swimming, cycling, or rowing, the key to the high is
"What these sports have in common is that they are things you can
perform in a repetitive rhythmic fashion, and that seems to produce the same
effect," says Bryant.
Whatever sport you choose, another piece of good news is that you don't have
to push your limits to reap a reward.
"The other thing that is encouraging is that workouts don't have to be
overly strenuous to produce this effect," says Bryant. "Most research
has looked at running and cycling and so forth, but when you look at some of
the studies that have been done in the clinical environment, the key is being
active for 30 minutes or more at a moderate intensity level to see some of
these beneficial psychological outcomes."
Beyond Runner's High
When a runner comes down off the high, many are left asking, "Why
bother?" What sense is there in running a 26.2 mile race?
"I've completed three full marathons and two half-marathons in the past
two years," Hall tells WebMD. "In the next year, I plan to complete two
half-marathons and two full marathons -- one as a component of an Ironman
While it sounds insane, for Hall, it's the epitome of accomplishment after
months of training and hard work that drives him to compete in marathons over
and over again.
"For me, the event itself isn't really about competition," says
Hall. "The marathon is my reward for the months of training leading up to
the event itself. You don't build a house in one day: You make a plan, wake up
early every day, and work hard. Such as it is, for me, with a
And of course, there's more than runner's high -- there's finish-line
"There is no better feeling than raising your hands as you cross the
finish line of a 26.2 mile course to the sound of hundreds of spectators
cheering," says Hall. "The emotional high of completing an endurance
event can last for days."