There are so many benefits to running, from improving your general health to easing depression symptoms — and losing track of time as you experience the happy, trance-like runner's high.
Fall is a great time to get outdoors and participate in a race. Whether you’re a serious athlete or a beginning runner, you can try for the elusive goal.
What is a runner's high?
“Many people feel better from the almost meditative trance that endurance sports can provide," said exercise physiologist Dr. Felicia Stoler. First described in the 1980s, a "runner's high" was believed to be a direct result of endorphins produced in the body during endurance exercise.
Research suggests the trance may actually be a result of the endocannabinoid system, which is essentially the body's own production of chemical substances that give one the feeling of being "high"or "elated", just like marijuana might, said Stoler.
How can I get the high?
Is it possible to produce those chemical substances, even if you're a new runner? It's actually easier for a beginner to get the runner's high because more experienced athletes “have adapted to the neurochemical changes," said internist Dr. Malcolm Thaler of One Medical in New York. "Their bodies are also highly trained so it takes much more effort to really feel a high level of exertion, thus they have to push themselves farther and faster to feel that high.”
If it doesn't come easily, don't give up.
"Every runner is different," says exercise physiologist Ed Bendoraitis of Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove, Illinois.
Try to run at least 20 minutes at 70-85 percent of your maximum heart rate.
"Your breath quickens, but you aren’t out of breath, and can carry on a conversation,” Bendoraitis said.
Maintain that level for about 20 minutes, or approximately 5 miles.
If that doesn't work, run at a different time of day or build up to pushing yourself a little harder.
If you're not a race runner, you can focus on a certain time. For example, instead of pushing yourself to run a 5K, push yourself to run or lightly jog for 60 minutes. Or, instead of running a mile, push yourself to walk uphill briskly for 15 minutes.
Giving yourself a workout that’s set in minutes rather than distance is another way to produce endorphins and possibly get the trance-like feeling.
No matter what your time, speed, or distance, remember to maintain good posture when you’re running, walking or doing any other form of cardio.
Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
Pull your navel in towards your spine to maintain an engaged core, which will support your low back. Remember to stretch dynamically before exercise, and then hold the stretches longer after exercise.
Some people may never experience the runner's high, said Stoler.
Even if you don't, you're still getting the benefit from your exercise, no matter how fast or hard you push yourself.
Research shows exercise improves body image, whether you’re fit, unfit or see no physical change in your body.
This article was originally published in September 2016.