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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 January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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