Born to Run: Runner’s High.

Though many of us live sedentary, couch-potato lives, our not-so-distant ancestors were high-performing endurance athletes. Being hunters and gathers, they traversed large stretches of land and led extremely active lifestyles. For them, it was a matter of survival.

Researchers from the University of Arizona wanted to see if evolution pushed people to exercise through reward pathways. Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.

If you’ve ever engaged in cardio at a high level of intensity, then you’ve probably experienced the infamous runner’s high. This very real phenomenon is caused by endocanabinoid signalling in the so-called reward centers of the brain. It makes us feel good. Maybe even great.

But is this runner’s high feeling exclusive to animals – like humans and dogs – that are built to be endurance athletes? Or do less active animals also experience this high?

Researchers used blood samples to compare endocanabinoid levels between humans and dogs to less-active ferrets. According to the research, ferrets did not experience elevated endocanabinoid levels after exercise – or the pleasures that accompanies it.

In other words, evolution used the endocanabinoid system to motivate endurance exercise in humans, dogs and other active species. It’s a remarkably clever way to motivate exercise for those species whose survival requires it.

Though the runner’s high can certainly help motivate individuals to stay fit, it’s not something that inactive people will necessarily experience – at least, right away. According to one researcher, “Inactive people may not be fit enough to hit the exercise intensity that leads to this sort of rewarding sensation.” But it’s definitely something to build up to.

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  1. I can defiantly relate to this article. Ive been pushing myself to the limits running futher and futher each week. Recently Ive noticed that Ive been hitting my “second wind ” and it feels great! Knowing that if I push myself, I will sometimes hit this euphoic feeling makes me want to hit the pavement more than ever. Thanks Davey!

  2. christopher says:

    i think this is so true-hey i will run with this hottie guy anytime.found one on treadmill next to me a few days ago-these running observations are most noted.

  3. Love this running thing been doing it now 2-3 years, love distance, love this book it was for me one of the ost interesting and motivating books I have read. Iuse minumus shoes to run and enjoy running barefoot when I can. Makes me feel like a kid again.

  4. Runner’s high? Darn, it gets me high as a kite. I always get it within the first few km, it lasts me until my run is finished and lingers for some hours afterwards. I know some people have no experienced it – for those who have indulged in treats with much the same name as Madonna’s latest album, the feeling to me is completely indistinguishable from a quarter of a very good one (minus the bruxism and poor social choices. Daffy smiles, all loved up and the world is good and at peace).

    The argument this is a biological imperative and an evolutionary marker is well-proven, and explains the presence of specifically evolved cannabinoid receptors in our brains (maybe god was a weekend toker, but it seems unlikely). I also find it interesting I have had in my younger days a real weakness for cannabinoids in the usual fashion, and today I feel the runners high very quickly, very strongly and it lasts for hours and hours. I suspect my own cannabinoid receptors are upregulated genetically.

    Nice post.