Contrary to what we all believe, the sense of well being after running that extra mile is not linked to the release of endorphins in our system. According to a recent report, scientists unlocked the true mechanism behind runner’s high, and it has nothing to do with the happy chemicals.
To this day, common belief was that the nice feeling you get both mentally and physically after a good run was caused by the body’s natural pain and stress relievers.
But according to a mouse study, that is just not the case. Most of us perceive satisfying workouts as enjoyable because of a different chemical released by our body – the endocannabinoids. These substances act on our brain just like the cannabinoids in marijuana, scientists explained.
The theory that gave credit to endorphins for the sense of euphoria we experience after workout is 25 years old. In the early 1980s, scientists noticed that the levels of the chemical in the bloodstream increased after serious physical activity.
It is a natural response of the body to the pain and discomfort we feel when we workout for prolonged periods of time. The body releases these chemicals to relieve pain much like morphine does.
But scientists in the 1980s speculated that endorphins may be responsible for runner’s high as well. Yet, they were wrong, the recent study suggests. Plus, endorphins are too big to penetrate brain tissue, but they are large enough to act on muscles and reduce pain. So, the euphoria we get after training could be caused only by a chemical that can directly influence the brain.
Some scientists were aware of this issue and looked for that substance for more than a decade. According to a recent study, German scientists unlocked the true mechanism behind runner’s high. They learned that our in-house produced marijuana, also known as endocannabinoids, are small enough to penetrate brain tissue and directly influence it.
Past research showed that physical activity boosted levels of endocannabinoids in our bloodstream. But there was no compelling evidence that they may induce the runner’s high sensation.
Recently, a group of researchers from the University of Heidelberg medical school in Germany said that their laboratory tests on mice clearly showed that endocannabinoids had a positive effect on the animals’ spirits after a strenuous running session.
Mice are hard-wired to enjoy running, and scientists didn’t have to force them into doing it. The team found that levels of endorphins and endocannabinoids were considerably higher after the animals exercised on the running wheel.
But after they blocked the animals’ endocannabinoid receptors the animals didn’t show any sign that their mental state improved although they used the running wheel. Most of the animals with blocked receptors were as anxious as they were before exercising and preferred darker and isolated corners in their cages.
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