Have you ever experienced a “runners high”? It is the natural high that runners report feeling after running when their endorphins are pumping throughout their system and feelings of ecstasy circulate. This high can be chased by runners and often drives them to keep running as this recreates the feelings of expansion and mental clarity we all enjoy.
What Causes A Runners High?
Countless studies show that multiple chemicals surge through the brain during a run. Running and exercise have been found to significantly increase levels of neurotransmitters such as endorphins, dopamine, endocannabinoid, norepinephrine, GABA, and serotonin.
Click here to learn how meditation can increase GABA production as well. It is a neurotransmitter that can block or impede neural signals and flood the body with calming feelings.
The body secretes endorphins as a pain reliever which has been linked to increased mood levels, a sense of euphoria and blocking pain receptors. In one theory endorphins are released when running due to our primal roots.
When we hunted for our own food running was a vital aspect of us surviving. If we were not able to keep up or challenge our prey while running due to sore leg muscles and blaring foot pain then we would not have been able to feed ourselves.
What Are Endorphins and Dopamine?
Endorphins and Dopamine are both neurotransmitters that work in the brain to relay messages to other areas. Endorphins are peptide hormones and endogenous opioid neuropeptides that stimulate the body’s opiate receptors, causing pain relief by blocking our pain receptors. Which in turn generates a sense of euphoria.
Dopamine is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter that interacts with the pleasure and reward section of the brain. When the brain is exposed to a stimulus it predicts as rewarding it will then releases dopamine in order to regulate motivational behavior and structure.
Meditation and Running
The brain is incredibly stimulated by both meditation and running and produces many positive and healing neurotransmitters as a result of both. For this article, we will dive into two main neurotransmitters which are dopamine and endorphins.
In a 1995 study 11 long term devoted runners and 12 experienced meditators were matched in age, sex, as well as personality. The study compared the aftereffect of running and meditation that many refer to as a natural high. It was found that the main hormone related to the positive effect felt is the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).
Within the study, each group practiced their skills and were then tested for their hormone levels. The CRH levels after the practice and compared to the pre-test showed a definite increase. Although there was no significant between the runners and meditators. This concludes that physical activity is not necessary in order to produce the “runners high”.
Another study shows that during Yoga Nidra meditation it increases the levels of dopamine specifically when one is immersed in a meditative state. This was compared to one group that they were asked to talk during the scan while the other group continued their meditative state. The results showed the level of relaxation did not differ between the two, but the meditation showed an increase in striatal dopamine release.