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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 20, 2018

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

A new year beautifully symbolizes a new chapter opening in the book that is your life. But while so many people like you aspire to achieve ambitious goals, only 12% of you will ever experience the taste of victory. Sound bad? It is. 156 million people (that’s 156,000,000) will probably give up on their resolution before you can say “confetti.” Keep on reading to learn why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to succeed).

Note: Since losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, I chose to focus on weight loss (but these principles can be applied to just about any goal you think of — make it work for you!).

1. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.

Slow and steady habit change might not be sexy, but it’s a lot more effective than the “I want it ALL and I want it NOW!” mentality. Small changes stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you’ll barely even notice them!).

If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight. Want to lose weight? Stop it with the crash diets and excessive exercise plans. Instead of following a super restrictive plan that bans anything fun, add one positive habit per week. For example, you could start with something easy like drinking more water during your first week. The following week, you could move on to eating 3 fruits and veggies every day. And the next week, you could aim to eat a fistful of protein at every meal.

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2. You put the cart before the horse.

“Supplementing” a crappy diet is stupid, so don’t even think about it. Focus on the actions that produce the overwhelming amount of results. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it.

3. You don’t believe in yourself.

A failure to act can cripple you before you leave the starting line. If you’ve tried (and failed) to set a New Year’s resolution (or several) in the past, I know it might be hard to believe in yourself. Doubt is a nagging voice in your head that will resist personal growth with every ounce of its being. The only way to defeat doubt is to believe in yourself. Who cares if you’ve failed a time or two? This year, you can try again (but better this time).

4. Too much thinking, not enough doing.

The best self-help book in the world can’t save you if you fail to take action. Yes, seek inspiration and knowledge, but only as much as you can realistically apply to your life. If you can put just one thing you learn from every book or article you read into practice, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

5. You’re in too much of a hurry.

If it was quick-and-easy, everybody would do it, so it’s in your best interest to exercise your patience muscles.

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6. You don’t enjoy the process.

Is it any wonder people struggle with their weight when they see eating as a chore and exercise as a dreadful bore? The best fitness plan is one that causes the least interruption to your daily life. The goal isn’t to add stress to your life, but rather to remove it.

The best of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do something we hate consistently, so make getting in shape fun, however you’ve gotta do it. That could be participating in a sport you love, exercising with a good friend or two, joining a group exercise class so you can meet new people, or giving yourself one “free day” per week where you forget about your training plan and exercise in any way you please.

7. You’re trying too hard.

Unless you want to experience some nasty cravings, don’t deprive your body of pleasure. The more you tell yourself you can’t have a food, the more you’re going to want it. As long as you’re making positive choices 80-90% of the time, don’t sweat the occasional indulgence.

8. You don’t track your progress.

Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an “I CAN do this” attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time. Improving your best performance on a regular basis offers positive feedback that will encourage you to keep going.

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9. You have no social support.

It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel alone. The good news? You’re not alone: far from it. Post a status on Facebook asking your friends if anybody would like to be your gym or accountability buddy. If you know a co-worker who shares your goal, try to coordinate your lunch time and go out together so you’ll be more likely to make positive decisions. Join a support group of like-minded folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere on the internet. Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.

10. You know your what but not your why.

The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail: you know what you want but you not why you want it.

Yes: you want to get fit, lose weight, or be healthy… but why is your goal important to you? For example:

Do you want to be fit so you can be a positive example that your children can admire and look up to?

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Do you want to lose fat so you’ll feel more confident and sexy in your body than ever before?

Do you want to be healthy so you’ll have increased clarity, energy, and focus that would carry over into every single aspect of your life?

Whether you’re getting in shape because you want to live longer, be a good example, boost your energy, feel confident, have an excuse to buy hot new clothes, or increase your likelihood of getting laid (hey, I’m not here to judge) is up to you. Forget about any preconceived notions and be true to yourself.

  • The more specific you can make your goal,
  • The more vivid it will be in your imagination,
  • The more encouraged you’ll be,
  • The more likely it is you will succeed (because yes, you CAN do this!).

I hope this guide to why New Year’s resolutions fail helps you achieve your goals this year. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to some friends so they can be successful just like you. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

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