Runner's High and Endorphins: Do the Body's Natural Opioids Make You Feel Good After an Intense Run or Workout
You are back from a hard run and you don't care..maybe that guy you had your eye on starts dating someone else but somehow it doesn't seem that important,you just got off the treadmill and even when you think about that pile of bills on the kitchen table it doesn't seem quite so intimidating. Runner's high? It could be. But what causes runner's high? Is it the body's natural pain drug? Endorphins or could it be another class of molecules that the body makes called endocannabinoids?
Runner's High is the feeling of exuberance, of calmness, of well being that often follows an energetic workout such as intense running or bicycling. A leading hypothesis has been that endorphins are released in response to intense exercise.
Endorphins (not the only ones) are endogenous opioids, molecules made by the body (endogenous) that attach to the body's opioid receptors. Yes, the same kind of receptors that take opium and opiates! When molecules attach to these opiod receptors it lessens pain and creates feelings of wellness.
What Physics Phenomenon Helped The Scientists Get Evidence for the runner's High
Scientists have been able to detect endorphin activity in runner's blood as well as in the spinal fluid of animal models. But the million dollar question was, are endorphins active in certain areas of the brain when runners are doing their workouts? They seem to have found an answer by using a medical device called a PET Scanner (Positron Emission Scanner). One of the main differences between PET scans and other imaging tests like CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is that the PET scan reveals the cellular level metabolic changes occurring in an organ or tissue. A positron is an anti-matter particle, the anti matter counterpart of an electron. (and you thought they only used anti-matter on Star Trek)
The PET Scanner can detect molecular activity in three dimensions. One of the main differences between PET scans and other imaging tests like CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is that the PET scan reveals the cellular level metabolic changes occurring in an organ or tissue.By using special molecules the scientists were able to look at the opioid receptor activity before and after runners had an intense workout. They looked at 10 runners before and after.
What Brain Areas Seem to be Impacted by Running?
"Reductions in opioid receptor availability were identified preferentially in prefrontal and limbic/paralimbic brain structures. The level of euphoria was significantly increased after running and was inversely correlated with opioid binding in prefrontal/orbitofrontal cortices, the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral insula, parainsular cortex, and temporoparietal regions. These findings support the "opioid theory" of the runner's high and suggest region-specific effects in frontolimbic brain areas that are involved in the processing of affective states and mood".
In their abstract the scientists say:
"The runner's high describes a euphoric state resulting from long-distance running. The cerebral neurochemical correlates of exercise-induced mood changes have been barely investigated so far. We aimed to unravel the opioidergic mechanisms of the runner's high in the human brain and to identify the relationship to perceived euphoria. We performed a positron emission tomography "ligand activation" study with the nonselective opioidergic ligand 6-O-(2-[(18)F]fluoroethyl)-6-O-desmethyldiprenorphine ([(18)F]FDPN)".
Break Through -- Runner's High from VirginView Productions on Vimeo.