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The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Reaching a Natural High

Posted April 14, 2008 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Do you want to feel invincible? Then go for a run! Many people say that running makes them feel at peace, relaxed, or even euphoric. The idea of a "runner's high" has been around for a long time, but has never been validated - until now.

Recently, the New York Times published a story claiming that scientists have reported that a runner's high really does exist. Thanks to recent advances in neuroscience, researchers in Germany have learned that running floods the brain with endorphins. These natural pain-killers are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus during strenuous exercise. The sensations which endorphins create are associated with mood changes, and are similar to those of mood-altering drugs. The euphoric state achieved by exercising may even cause the runner to be more resistant to pain and discomfort.

The lead researcher, Dr. Henning Boecker from the University of Bonn, said he came to test endorphins when he realized that pain studies were applicable. The study used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to test runners' brains before and after a two-hour run. This non-invasive, three-dimensional, medical imaging technology detects the presence of metabolically-active chemicals such as endorphins. In the course of his research, Dr. Boecker also administered a psychological mood-indicating test.

The results of Boecker's research indicate that the endorphins produced during running attach themselves to areas of the brain that are associated with emotions. Specifically, these areas are the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the brain. Emotions associated with these areas include romantic love, and music that "gives you a sense of euphoria".

This eurphoric high is not limited to running, of course. The feeling of being "high" from exercise can occur during most sports. This feeling of bliss is generally felt during the activity, or for a short period afterward; however, running and exercising have long-term benefits for your mind and body as well. People who exercise are generally in better moods, are more relaxed, and suffer from less anxiety and depression. According to the American Journal of Physiology's Heart and Circulatory Physiology, the release of endorphins and opioids during exercise may help keep our hearts healthy.

So remember that you don't have to be Superman to feel invincible! Whether you're welcoming spring or easing into winter, running and exercise can make you look and feel better.

Resources:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/27/health/nutrition/27best.html?ref=health
http://lifehacker.com/373017/running-for-the-high
http://www.webmd.com/content/Article/128/117152.htm?pagenumber=2
http://fitness-software-review.toptenreviews.com/getting-high-on-exercise.html
http://completerunning.com/archives/2007/12/19/endorphins-more-than-a-feeling/
http://cabig.cancer.gov/resources/glossary.asp

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#1

Re: Reaching a Natural High

04/14/2008 12:00 PM

Fortunately, you can achieve many of these same benefits without running for the two-hours mentioned in the study. My evidence is anecdotal, of course, but a half-hour to 45 minute runs works well for me.

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#2
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Re: Reaching a Natural High

04/14/2008 1:37 PM

Great point, Moose! Although this study focused on running marathons, I think it's safe to say that you don't have to run that far to achieve runner's high. I too find that running a half-hour or so allows me to feel really good; but I can't say that it is as good or better than running a marathon because - well, I don't think I could make my body run that far.

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#3

Re: Reaching a Natural High

04/14/2008 1:44 PM

I wonder if achieving milestones or the level of activity at which you practice depicts the amount of endorphins released into your body. As an avid runner and rock climber I might go as far to label myself an adrenaline junkie and would suggest that being at the top of your game makes you feel all the better.

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#4

Re: Reaching a Natural High

04/15/2008 12:50 PM

I think the same could even be said for a brisk walk. My joints aren't up for running anymore, but I do walk with my two dogs almost every day. (Okay, once in awhile it turns into a jog at some points - they're usually in a hurry.) I usually feel refreshed and even more energetic than before I spent the energy on the walk.

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