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Why We Get “High” From Running

Why We Get “High” From Running

Although endorphins previously garnered all of the credit for the rewarding and euphoric sensation related to running, a recently published study by researchers at the University of Montreal reveals dopamine as a new factor in the discussion.

Running continues to become increasingly popular in the United States, especially endurance running in the form of marathon distances and beyond. Have you ever wondered if there is a common factor motivating so many to cover such long distances? Why do some runners describe a sense of euphoria, or “high,” during a run, while it remains absent in others? Forrest Gump, famously quipped that he “just felt like running” as he embarked on his coast to coast trek in the 1994 film. Is there a deeper motivation?

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Although running is a common way to maintain fitness in today’s society, allowing for one to enjoy the occasional over-indulgence, our ancestors may have engaged in endurance activity for other reasons – to actually acquire food. Though food acquisition now can be as simple as a trip to the supermarket, the evolutionary by-product of engaging in endurance activity to obtain food may still remain as a motivator for your daily run.

“We discovered that the rewarding effects of endurance activity are modulated by leptin, a key hormone in metabolism. Leptin inhibits physical activity through dopamine neurons in the brain,” said Stephanie Fulton, researcher at University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre and lead author of the published study.

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Dopamine, a neurotransmitter found in humans, is largely responsible for feelings of reward, pleasure, and motivation. Because of the link to both dopamine and metabolism in the study, researchers believe humans may have a hardwired motivation toward endurance activity for food acquisition. Leptin, which is known to help control feelings of hunger, also influences physical activity.

Within the study, the activity of voluntary wheel running was measured in two groups of mice. Normal mice served as the control group, while a second group of mice were modified in such a way that simulated lower leptin levels. By comparison, the mice in the genetically modified group exhibited higher levels of activity (measured by wheel running).

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“Our findings now show that [leptin] also plays a vital role in motivation to run, which may be related to searching for food,” explained Stephanie Fulton.

Though the concept isn’t necessarily brand new, the idea that running has a biological link to our ancestors may be gaining momentum. In the last half decade alone, the best-selling book “Born to Run,” and the subsequently inspired documentary Fair Chase both provide arguments that human motivation and proclivity for endurance activity may have a more evolution-based, biological link to food acquisition behavior.

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So what does the recent study on mice teach us with regard to human motivation for running? How does this relate to running performance in humans? Why the variance in experiences with a runner’s high? To a degree, it all depends on the individual.

According to Fulton, multiple studies have already demonstrated a correlation between leptin and marathon performance. “The lower leptin levels are, the better the performance. We speculate that for humans, low leptin levels increase motivation to exercise and make it easier to get a runner’s high.”

As a human race, we have been running for many years. In the modern era, for both extrinsic (physical appearance, raising money, earning a medal) and intrinsic (accepting a challenge, meeting a goal) reasons. However, the notion for a third type of motivation, a biological one, is steadily gaining support through ethnographic research and lab experiments such as these. Although you likely do not have to spend hours or days seeking out and acquiring your food, your body may still be hardwired to make that association, and get you on the move.

Featured photo credit: Forrest Gump Point, Monument Valley, Utah/Fabio Achilli via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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