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Runner’s Highs: Not Just for Runners

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For as long as I can remember — way before I knew anything about endorphins or psychophysiology or thresholds or V02 maxes — I’ve craved the high I get from exercise.  It’s my drug of choice.  As a kid, I remember the sky looking more blue and the clouds looking more billowy after a bike ride around the lake.  At low points in my life, breaking a sweat has helped put a spring back into my step.  During intense times, losing my breath has helped me find my focus.  And today, putting one foot in front of another keeps me grounded in each day and anchored in my life.

Getting intimate with the “runner’s high” early in life helped me build a deep and committed relationship with exercise, and I’ve been addicted ever since.  Knowing how sweet this feeling can be is what gave me the courage to take the first few steps after knee surgeries and hold my first planks after C-sections.  It’s what makes me want to climb Old La Honda faster and faster each summer.  And it’s what gets me out of bed painfully early some mornings.  It’s incredible and beautiful and enrapturing, yet unfortunately, wholly unknown for so many people.

Researchers have looked into the elusiveness of the runner’s high (which isn’t just for runners, by the way), and have concluded that despite not appearing to be universally achievable, it is indeed.  According to David Raichlen, PhD, a researcher at the University of Arizona, the runner’s high is a legitimately addictive feeling that every is capable of achieving.  But the hitch is, not everyone feels it right away.  Dr. Raichlen’s research, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, says that feeling it has everything to do with the intensity of your exercise: “Inactive people may not be fit enough to hit the exercise intensity that leads to this sort of rewarding sensation,” Raichlen says. But he is confident “that inactive individuals can be helped to build up their exercise tolerance until they cross the threshold where they become motivated to exercise by endocannabinoids.

This makes sense, and whether we’re active or inactive, we all have different physical capacities for exertion.  Beyond these thresholds — whatever they are — our bodies get stressed, we begin to feel crummy, and we think about throwing in the towel.  People interpret their body’s sensations differently during exercise, and some can push through intensity more comfortably than others.  Some fall in love with the high on the playground, and some never know what it’s all about.  If you’re in love, embrace that love.  But if you’re not, it’s worth it to push through the pain to chase that high.  Here are five tips to help push through the discomfort and find the bliss…

1) Listen to music.  This can make us feel great and push past our comfort zones for longer than we would in silence.

2) Get outside.  According to a study conducted at the Centre for Sports & Exercise Science at the University of Essex, subjects reported feeling happier and their exercise felt less difficult when they worked out amidst green trees versus black-and-white or red scenes.

3) Set realistic goals.  Start small.  Build up slowly.  Start each workout with the goal of feeling great when you’re done, and then tack on an extra few minutes or extra set of intervals the next time.

4) Work out with friends.  Preferably funny friends with captivating stories that can distract you from the ticking clock and racing heart rate.

5) Stop comparing.  Start with where you are today, not where you were in high school or before you had kids or when you had more time to ride your bike.  Treat every day like a new day, and every workout like a new workout — and just focus on one thing: making it better than the one before.

What has helped you push through to feel a runner’s high?  Please share your ideas!

 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Love this! When I’m struggling on a run, I pick a point 15 feet in front of me and run to it, then as I’m closing in on that point, I pick another point, and then another. It keeps me my momentum going when I’m ready to throw in the towel.

    February 25, 2014
  2. I agree with all but #4. Probably because my friends are all confirmed couch potatoes, but the rest works perfectly for the bike as well. I never go to the gym! Great posta,

    February 25, 2014
  3. This is corny, but totally true. I look down at my dog, who is my faithful running companion, and who is alway smiling and powering through until the end. Seeing how absolutely happy he is to be feeling the wind through his fur, no matter what the conditions are outside, makes me realize that I am lucky to be fit and healthy enough to run. And those few extra kilometres won’t kill me. They’ll just make me happier!

    February 25, 2014
  4. Amen! You nailed it with all five, I especially relate to 1 and 5. Another key for me is finding my motivation in both near and long term goals. The near term goals (training for an upcoming race) get me excited, but those long term goals (pushing my grand kids in the baby jogger… 20+ yrs out) are what keep me coming back for more year after year.

    February 25, 2014
  5. Love, love, love this! I got addicted to that feeling back when I did ballet growing up… then sort of lost my way again and found new ways to exercise (and get that high) in college. I’m not a “runner” by any means, but even a short jog gets me all excited. xox

    February 28, 2014

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