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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 November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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