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Get a mental buzz from your next run with these four tips.
Ask any long-distance runner and they’ll likely be able to describe a “runner’s high,” a feel-good rush of endorphins and endocannabinoids that leave you feeling energized and uplifted. The chemicals, which are produced naturally by your body, can reduce anxiety and even dull pain. Why is the experience referred to as a high? The endorphin compounds are similar in some ways to euphoria-inducing drugs like opiates, including morphine, and endocannabinoids are chemically similar to compounds in cannabis.
Research has shown that humans and other mammals may be wired to run, as evidenced by the “runner’s high” phenomenon. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Humans who were able to run farther and faster than their brethren were able to escape predators, hunt animals, and quickly leave dangerous environments, therefore making them more likely to survive. The positive effects of a runner’s high aren’t a purely psychological benefit to encourage running — the pain suppressant effect could allow a human to ignore aching muscles or a minor injury long enough to escape danger.
In modern day humans, where most of us don’t need to worry about outrunning hungry predators, the benefits could be described as more behavioral. The positive chemical reaction associated with a runner’s high can encourage people to exercise regularly through what is, essentially, behavioral conditioning — the behavior, running, is rewarded with a good feeling.
Not every runner gets a runner’s high, but here are a few tricks to increase the likelihood you’ll experience one on your next run:
There’s a huge psychological benefit to finishing strong and ending your run on a positive note. It can be disappointing to peter out in the last quarter mile or have to cut your circuit short because you run out of steam, whereas sprinting across the finish line will likely leave you feeling encouraged and empowered. Save a burst of energy to end your run at full power, and the resulting positive feeling may be enough to jump start your runner’s high.
Set achievable goals
In the same way that a lackluster end to your run can be demoralizing, never meeting your goals can put a permanent damper on your runner’s high. Be sure to set goals for yourself that are challenging, yet achievable. Ideally, meeting your goals should take effort, so as to feel rewarding, but also manageable enough that you can hit a goal every few weeks.
For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, break that goal down to checkpoint achievements that you can meet throughout your training, such as running five, then 10, then 15 miles, etc. or training five days in a row. Regularly hitting mini goals may be the positive boost you need to get a runner’s high.
Raise your heart rate
A runner’s high is a physiological response to prolonged stress, so one way or another, you need to raise your heart rate. Training at a heart rate that is 70 to 85 percent of your maximum is ideal for triggering the release of mood-lifting chemicals. As the name runner’s high suggests, running is one way to get your heart pumping and induce the effect, but you can achieve the same result through other cardio activities like cycling or elliptical cross-training.
Take care of yourself
It’s hard to feel good mentally when, physically, you’re struggling. Increase your chances of experiencing a runner’s high by eating enough calories and macronutrients to meet your metabolic needs, consuming a variety of clean foods, staying hydrated, and allowing yourself enough sleep and recovery time.
By following these tips to keep your training strenuous but enjoyable, you’ll be on your way to feeling the uplifting effects of a runner’s high in no time.
Photo credit: ThinkStock, alexemanuel