Why Does Running Feel So Good? (Explaining the Happy Runner’s High)

While running can be excruciating for some people, many of us who enjoy the sport know the feeling of a runner’s high. If you’ve never heard of this phenomenon, you may be stuck asking yourself, “why does running feel so good?”

Running feels good because most aerobic exercise forms produce endorphins that facilitate dopamine release in the brain. Dopamine is the reward chemical that triggers pleasant sensations in the brain that make you want to replicate an experience or action. When this happens while running, you may experience a so-called “runner’s high.”

Continue reading below to get more detailed answers to your questions regarding runner’s high.

Why running feels good

Running can feel good for a variety of reasons.

Here are a few reasons running feels good:

  • Endorphin release
  • Overall fitness improvements
  • Time alone
  • Social aspect
  • Sense of accomplishment

Though many consider running a form of punishment, plenty of people worldwide consider it a hobby and even look forward to it. With this being the case, it’s clear that there is some sort of inherent reward in the practice. 

Does achieving a runner’s high seem impossible because you struggle just to get past that first mile? Check out this article for tips on making the first mile easier!

Can running be addictive?

Though it normally is not an addictive activity in the typical sense, running can become habitual and even necessary for some people to regulate their fitness, energy levels, and emotions properly.

In that sense, running would be classified as a sort of exercise addiction that may actually begin to interfere with the normal activities of a person’s daily life. 

A person that suffers from this type of exercise addiction may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Prioritizing exercise over important activities such as family commitments or work.
  • A failure to pause, even when the exercising is causing injury or self-harm.
  • An inability to talk about or find interest in other hobbies or topics.
  • A negative self-image and possibly body distortions are similar to those found in people who suffer from certain eating disorders.

Of course, most forms of aerobic exercise – including running – are typically positive habits to form, but if you feel yourself becoming obsessive in an unhealthy way, you should consult a doctor or mental health professional to get the help you need. 

Why do I feel energized after a run?

Feeling energized after a run results from a number of body systems that respond positively to aerobic exercise.

The first of these body systems is the endocrine system which releases endorphins out of your pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, which are both located in the brain. 

Running feels good because the aerobic exercise released endorphins out of your pituitary gland and hypothalamus (pictured).

These chemicals are natural pain relievers that emit a cocktail of “good-feeling” toxins into the brain. Aerobic exercise is a major catalyst for the release of endorphins, making running a strong predictor of feeling energized, alert, and happy. 

Endorphins act as a sort of natural antidepressant.

Because one common symptom of depression is a lack of energy, these magical chemicals can make us feel as if we’ve been plugged into a supercharger! Next time you’re feeling sluggish and tired, try taking a run. It may seem counterintuitive, but the evidence suggests your run will make your brain more energized.

How long do endorphins last after exercise?

Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear answer here. Generally, people who experience a runner’s high tend to feel good after the exercise has finished, but it varies from person to person.

Why is running good mentally?

Aside from the positive emotions that the release of endorphins has on mood and energy levels, running can also develop other mental faculties.

There is a plethora of evidence backing the idea that frequent exercise has a large positive correlation with increased size in the brain’s hippocampus region.

This is the area of the brain that controls learning and memory

A mountain of research has revealed that frequent exercise over time may account for a 2% increase in hippocampus volume. This phenomenon can profoundly affect the long-term memory of consistent runners and can effectively reverse the effects of aging on the brain by 1-2 years. 

Hmmm, running and brain power – who knew?

If beating depression and reversing the effects of aging doesn’t convince you of the importance of running and other forms of aerobic exercise, then nothing will!

What does a runner’s high feel like?

If you only run occasionally, chances are you’ve never felt a runner’s high.

A runner’s high feels like the forces of gravity are slowly being lifted until you’re so relaxed that you find yourself floating among the clouds. It’s a feeling of zero resistance during, what otherwise would be, an extremely grueling physical task. When a person experiences a runner’s high, it can be surprising and even a little bit disorienting, as the emotions and sensations one would expect to feel during intense exercise seem to have gone away. 

This is because of the pain-reducing effects of endorphins in the brain, as explained above.

If you find yourself experiencing a runner’s high, you should consider yourself lucky, because it is extremely rare.

How are you feeling after running?

Tips for getting that runner’s high

Are you someone that struggles to say, “Running makes me feel good?”

While the feeling of a runner’s high is not something you can intentionally conjure, there are some things you can do to increase the likelihood of experiencing it consistently.

Take a look at the list below to find strategies for putting yourself in the state of mind and body necessary for experiencing a runner’s high:

  • Increase running intensity
  • Build endurance over time
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before
  • Run with friends
  • Listen to music
  • Mix up your routine
  • Hydrate & fuel your body
Running with friends is just one way to put yourself in the right state of mind to achieve the much-sought-after runner's high.

For various reasons, each of these strategies may help put your body in the right frame to experience a runner’s high, but as stated above, the feeling cannot be conjured on demand.