runner’s high? Some of the positive feelings could come from fresh air
and sunlight, being away from the job and phone calls or from a sense
of accomplishment about the workout. A number of runners, however,
insist they have never experienced a high—but have had plenty of lows.
The scientific community is just as
divided on the topic. Some have proposed the notion that endorphins are
released in the brain, thus creating mood change. These powerful
chemicals, which resemble morphine and opium, produce feelings of
euphoria and dramatically reduce pain perception. The problem has been
that there was no way to directly measure endorphins in the blood or
Recently the theory was given credence in a University of Bonn study that was published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
Scientists examined subjects who performed a two-hour run; the
researchers used a complex system that involved injections of
radioactive tracers, receptor sites and PET scans of the brain.
According to lead researcher Professor Herring Boecker, “We could
validate for the first time an endorphin-driven runner’s high and
identify the affected brain areas.”
Exactly why the subjects were required
to run a full two hours is unclear. Most runners do not run that long
unless preparing for a marathon. It seems likely that the researchers
wanted to be sure they had plenty of endorphins released so that it
could be detected easily.
Like with most drugs, there is a
downside to endorphin. Getting used to this mood-elevating chemical on
a regular basis can easily become addictive. This helps explain the
frequent occurrence of low moods when habitual runners are forced to
take time off due to injury or other problems. Exercising can
definitely become an addiction, although most authorities consider it a
Clinton exchange: The first mile of the
Mountain Goat Run, raced in part on South Clinton Street, isn’t enough
time for the endorphins to kick in. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO.