Runner's High A Spiritual Thing? Nah, It's Just Chemicals

Say it ain't so!  But that euphoric high you get from running is all chemical, not the least bit spiritual.

According to a new survey, apparently that sense of freedom and joy we get from running is not just from endorphins but from a hormone called leptin (which also supposedly causes us to lose -- or not lose -- weight, but that's a story for another day).

The "runner’s high" phenomenon is also caused by dopamine, an important neurotransmitter for motivation, reports. 

"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," Stephanie Fulton, a researcher at the CRCHUM and lead author of an article published today in the journal Cell Metabolism, tells newswise.

Secreted by adipose tissue, leptin helps control the feeling of satiety. This hormone also influences physical activity. "The more fat there is, the more leptin there is and and the less we feel like eating. Our findings now show that this hormone also plays a vital role in motivation to run, which may be related to searching for food", explains Fulton, who is also a professor at Université de Montréal’s Department of Nutrition.

Hormone signals that modulate feeding and exercise are in fact believed to be closely linked. Would you believe our endurance running capacity is thought to have evolved to maximize the chances of finding food?  Though, when I've had a long run, the last thing I am is hungry.

This study, however, suggests that leptin plays a critical role both in regulating energy balance and encouraging behaviors that are "rewarding" for the person’s metabolism -- engaging in physical activity to find food. I guess that's where the high comes from.

"Previous studies have clearly shown a correlation between leptin and marathon run times," adds Fulton.  "The lower leptin levels are, the better the performance. Our study on mice suggests that this molecule is also involved in the rewarding effects experienced when we do physical exercise. We speculate that for humans, low leptin levels increase motivation to exercise and make it easier to get a runner’s high."

I'll still take the idea that it's coming from my heart, not my head.


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