Getting legally high on exercise

The ‘runner's high’ is a term used to describe a euphoric state experienced by distance runners, although it is now thought this phenomenon is not exclusive to running.

Reaching a high when working out has been likened to the feeling associated with getting high on drug. It has even been described by some runners as ‘orgasmic’.

So what is this elusive runner’s high and can we really explain its existence? And how is this drug-like state triggered by simply going for a run?

Researchers have long associated the runner’s high with the release of endorphins. Endorphins are morphine-like neurotransmitters which naturally occur in the body and are produced in high concentrations when we engage in exercise. Animal research shows similar effects from aerobic exercise.

These brain-based chemicals are not only capable of inducing a euphoric state, but are also thought to relieve pain. In effect, these act much like external opioids such as opium and morphine, but are a better and legal way to achieve a high.

Other explanations have evolved over time that challenge the endorphin hypothesis.

The main criticism is that there is no set standard to define the phenomenon of the runner’s high and not everyone who runs or exercises gets to experience it, although it has been claimed that up to 70 per cent of runners do.

So while there may be good reason to believe that factors other than endorphins are at play (e.g. cognitive effects through time-out and distraction, and an increased sense of mastery or accomplishment) until we fully solve the runner’s high equation, we have comfort in knowing that we have the ability to get high naturally without the use of harmful drugs.

So if you’re looking for a way to feel good then buy a pair of trainers and get moving. While there is no guarantee you’ll experience the runner’s high, there is one sure thing that is guaranteed: exercise is good for you. You’ll be doing something that is both physically and mentally stimulating.