What Is a Runner’s High and How to Achieve It

Running towards a healthier and happier lifestyle

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Runners often talk about this magical “high” they get during and after a run. They feel more energy after they finish running than they do before they start. Not every runner has felt this elusive high, even if they have been running for years, whereas some runners feel this high all the time. Others only get this feeling every once in a while after a run. This really is a fleeting and puzzling emotion.

What does this high feel like? It is similar to the euphoria you get after using drugs (only a runner's high is caused naturally), which is why many runners crave it. The high occurs because the body produces endorphins and other biochemical substances when working out, and the result is a feeling of intoxicated bliss.

What Is a Runner’s High?

According to Harvard Health, aerobic exercise can bring about positive feelings because of the changes to your body, including a capacity to provide stimulation, remove stress, counteract depression, and improve your spirit. This accumulation of emotions contributes to a runner’s high, which is described as a euphoria, a gain of energy, weightlessness, effortless, or living in an altered state (such as taking drugs).

How Does a Runner’s High Work

Runners achieve psychological benefits from running due to endocannabinoids and endorphins created in the body.

Endocannabinoids

Substances produced by the body called endocannabinoids perform their work in the brain and are similar to the high cannabis can bring. These endocannabinoids can create the effervescent feeling runners feel when working out, like a high after smoking cannabis. But it is acquired naturally, not from smoking or consuming any form of drugs.

Endorphins

Harvard Health says neurochemicals play a role in the mental benefits of aerobic workouts. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which are responsible for the runner’s high and the feelings of optimism that accompany challenging workouts. This “high” occurs in running because of the muscular meditation the sport creates. When you use large muscle groups in a repetitive fashion, your body and mind tend to relax and stress diminishes.

Benefits of a Runner’s High

A runner’s high can provide significant health benefits, including the following:

  • Happy feelings
  • Stress reduction
  • Make the run more enjoyable
  • Feel that you could keep running longer
  • Pain sensation reduction

Tips for Achieving a Runner’s High

You can better your chances of getting a runner's high by shaking up your current running habits. Tips include the three following:

Go Outside to Stimulate Your Senses

In a study from Scientific Reports, spending 120 minutes of outdoor activity can benefit your well-being by 23 percent and health by 59 percent when compared to those who spend less time outdoors. This investigation on outdoor workouts included more than 19,000 British citizens, and results held steady among gender, age, and income level.

Run With a Partner

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that running with a partner can motivate you and you help cheer each other on, which in turn, can create feelings of positivity and optimism. You only need one partner to notice a difference. But joining a group can allow you to run with others of different ages and gender and could in turn, enhance your motivation level significantly than running solo.

Listen to Music

Music can ease painful feelings associated with running. According to a study from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and published in the International Journal of Physiology, Pathophysiology and Pharmocology, music can increase exercise performance, power, and strength, and delay fatigue. In this study, 50 participants exercised with and without music. Results showed that total exercise duration with music was significantly greater than when exercising without music.

A Word From Verywell Fit

Running can provide substantial mental health benefits, providing endorphins that allow you to feel a high during and after a run. If you are still searching for this phantom high, you can perform a few external tricks to help you achieve this feeling, including moving your workout outdoors and joining up with friends for a run. Before you begin a running program, be sure to speak with a medical professional to keep you safe and injury free.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a runner’s high feel like?

    A runner’s high has been described as a feeling of euphoria, optimism, and exhilaration. This is due to the production of endorphins created in the brain when working out. Endorphins are natural painkillers that also heighten your mood.

  • Can a runner’s high make you addicted to running?

    A runner’s high can make you addicted to running, which is not a good thing as it can lead to injuries. In a 2020 study on mental recovery in running, researchers surveyed 246 recreational runners in the Netherlands who were between 19 and 77 years old. Runners who were able to properly mentally recover after running were less likely to report running-related injuries. Anyone addicted to running and achieving that "runner's high" should be educated on how best to mentally recover after running, which can help keep them injury free.

  • How does running benefit mental health?

    A quantitative study on running and mental health was conducted that analyzed 16,401 studies and 273 full texts. Researchers found that running promotes well-being and satisfaction with your health, allows for socialization, creates connection to community, reduces loneliness, and producing endorphins to give you an overall feeling of happiness.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health. How does exercise reduce stress? Surprising answers to this question and more.

  2. RaichlenDA, Foster AD, Gerdeman GL, Seillier A, Giuffrida A. Wired to run: Exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the ‘runner’s high.’ J Exp Biol. 2012;215(8):1331-1336. doi:10.1242/jeb.063677

  3. Harvard Health. How does exercise reduce stress? Surprising answers to this question and more.

  4. Hicks SD, Jacob P, Perez O, Baffuto M, Gagnon Z, Middleton FA. The transcriptional signature of a runner’s hiMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2019;51(5):970-978. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001865

  5. White MP, Alcock I, Grellier J, et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeingSci Rep. 2019;9(1):7730.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3 reasons to work out with a friend.

  7. Thakare AE, Mehrotra R, Singh A. Effect of music tempo on exercise performance and heart rate among young adultsInt J Physiol Pathophysiol Pharmacol. 2017;9(2):35-39.

  8. Harvard Health. How does exercise reduce stress? Surprising answers to this question and more.

  9. de Jonge J, Balk YA, Taris TW. Mental recovery and running-related injuries in recreational runners: the moderating role of passion for runningInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020;17(3):1044.

  10. Oswald F, Campbell J, Williamson C, Richards J, Kelly P. A scoping review of the relationship between running and mental healthInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(21):8059.

Additional Reading

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."