Most of us are familiar with, if we haven’t experienced, a “runner’s high.” It is usually defined as a state of euphoria or extreme joy or delight. It follows a period of intense and/or lengthy exercise, associated with but not necessarily limited to running. But according to research, there is no pace, distance, or other objective measure that determines whether or not you experience runner’s high. Actually, the same can be achieved if one just stays the course and doesn’t give up. If this is true, we’re talking not about a runner’s high, but a persistence high.
First, let’s understand the science behind a runner’s high. When a runner hits their stride, hormones called endorphins are released by the body. Endorphins help prevent the muscles from feeling pain, but they don’t contribute to that euphoric “high” we’re talking about. These endorphins don’t cross the blood-brain barrier.
However, exercise also increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream. Known by neuroscientists as the “don’t worry be happy” chemicals, these biochemical substances are naturally produced by the body and are similar to cannabis. And they easily cross the blood-brain barrier. It’s these endocannabinoids that create reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.
Researchers Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman questioned when and how these endocannabinoids were released into the body. The tested runners and found that walking slowly or running at an exhausting pace didn’t increase endocannabinoids. However, jogging tripled the levels. There was a sweet spot, and they speculate that it relates to our ancestors’ lives as hunters, scavengers, and foragers.
They believe that when we exercise at an intensity similar to that our ancestors exerted to find food two million years ago, our brains reward us by releasing endocannabinoids. We’re rewarded for putting in the time and effort, not for achieving a particular pace or distance.
Here’s the trick, we each need to do something moderately difficult for us and keep at it for at least 20 minutes in order to get that persistence high.
But here’s the most interesting question. Are our bodies designed to persist so we can get the “high,” or is this “high” built into our design so that we can persist? Certainly, many of us take joy in digging in and persevering. We all want to be the one who gets going when the going gets tough.
Interestingly, when the endocannabinoids are released, they lock into receptors in the body, many of which are found in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex of the brain. Once that happens, they reduce anxiety and increase feelings of optimism.
In a review, it was determined that this endocannabinoid system gets revved up in one of three ways: through cannabis intoxication, exercise, and social connection. Conversely, low endocannabinoid states are linked to cannabis withdrawal, anxiety, and loneliness.
So that runner’s or persistence high also helps us bond and feel close to others. It is an opportunity to connect. Suddenly, that 20 minutes of effort just got even better.
An active lifestyle is a central part of living life at 100:100, 100% for 100 years or more. And a 100 Year Lifestyle Provider near you is ready to help you every step of the way whether you run, cycle, or dance your way to your persistence high.
Keeping your spine and nervous system in peak working order will make the journey that much more enjoyable, and the rewards even greater. Start living your “high” life today!