Running is my therapy. I run to de-stress after a hectic day, calm down after a difficult conversation or find a solution to a complex problem. Those closest to me know the best way to deal with me when I’m irritated, grumpy or upset is to suggest—nicely—that I go for a run.
Often, I feel like I’m able to drop my concerns on the pavement as I run. Mile one, I replay whatever is bothering me, speeding up or slowing down depending on my mood; mile two, I puzzle over possible solutions and outcomes; mile three, I’m writing the emails or planning the conversations I’ll have to solve the problem; mile four (five or six, depending on how worked up I am), I’m singing along to my iPod. By the time I get home, I feel happy and incredibly energized.
I’ve always wondered: Is this the so-called "runner’s high?" Or would I be able to reach the same state if I sat on my couch for an hour or more and thought things over carefully?
Until recently, researchers have never been able to prove that the runner’s high—long fabled to be caused by the release of endorphins, your body’s natural stimulants—exists. Research conducted by German neuroscientists finally provides evidence to back up the lore. (Read the study abstract from the Cerebral Cortex journal here.)
Led by Henning Boecker, the scientists scanned the brains of 10 long-distance runners before and after a two-hour run. Using PET scans, they were able to measure the amount of endorphins in the runners’ brains and where the endorphins were located. Not only did each runner’s level of endorphins increase during the run, the endorphins clustered around the part of the brain associated with mood and feel-good emotions—providing that blissful runner’s high.
The next step for researchers: figuring out why this doesn’t happen for all runners after every run. How long or hard do you have to run to get a happy high?
Solve that riddle, and my therapy will be complete.