Those who do strenuous physical activity, particularly runners, often notice a point where the physical pain of their activity fades to be replaced by a feeling of well-being. This so-called “runner’s high” is not just something from people’s imagination but a real physical effect that can be studied scientifically. While this effect is used to motivate people to exercise, it also has benefits that go beyond exercise.
This high is in fact caused by a drug of sorts. Endorphins, produced primarily in the pituitary gland, resemble opiates and produce a feeling of well-being in people. When the body reaches a certain threshold during strenuous exercise, these compounds are released. To reach this threshold, the level of physical activity usually needs to be moderate to high with breathing becoming difficult.
Endorphins are sometimes thought of as natural painkillers. When released, they prevent nerve cells from sending more pain signals. The effect is giving people a lower level of pain and an increased feeling of a sense of power and control over themselves. This allows people to persist in a difficult activity for a longer period of time.
Of course, there are situations were pain is a valuable tool to tell a person to stop in what they are doing. People should be careful not to get so caught up in the rush they get from endorphins that they ignore signals from their bodies that they need to stop to prevent serious bodily harm. Until they are aware of their limits, those new to exercise in particular must listen to their bodies’ signals not to push things too far.
However, endorphins are a powerful tool that can be used for positive physical and psychological effects. People can use the anticipation of their runner’s high to motivate them to exercise. With their psychological effects persisting even after exercise, endorphins can have a positive effect on both physical and mental health. Thus, they can make people feel better about their lives in addition to motivating them to exercise.
To get endorphin effects, cardiovascular exercises are the best. Moderate to heavy levels of exercise are usually needed before the body will release endorphins. While their effects vary from person to person, they generally increase with the intensity of the exercise, and those who are the most physically fit are the most receptive. At least 30 minutes a day is recommended for best effects. While there have been cases of people that become virtually addicted to exercise for their endorphin highs, such extremes are rare, and they have positive effects on health and mood for most people.
There is still some scientific controversy as to exactly what is taking place in a runner’s high. However, there is virtually no doubt as to the effects, and these effects can be integrated into a fitness program for a healthy lifestyle.