The Famed Runner's High

Right up until he passed away, Dr John Hinwood was a prolific blogger (an award-winning blogger in fact!). John’s blog’s shared musing from a rich history of experience, learnings, travel and wisdom.

The Hinwood Institute is named in honour of Dr John and to continue his legacy. We’re republishing his blogs to keep his wisdom, wit and wise words alive for the world to enjoy.

You can learn more about the legacy of Dr John Hinwood HERE.

two people - runner's high

The Science Behind the Runner’s High  More Than Just Endorphins

Having spent a lifetime enjoying the joy of running or a good walking challenge, the eustress (good stress). That generated a major part of my daily personal stress management plan and personal wellbeing program.

Now, we will explore the captivating realm of the “runner’s high,” dissecting the science that makes it a vital component of my wellness routine.

Happy Hormones and the Misconception

The science behind what physical activity does for our bodies has been heavily weighted around the release of endorphins which are a member of the ‘Happy Hormone’ family.

That fleeting sense of euphoria and calm that many people report experiencing after exercise has been credited to the release of endorphins into our system.

I have heard people say, “I can feel my endorphins are kicking in.”

Endorphins are the world’s highly noted peptide, however, their role in creating euphoria with exercise has now been proven to be not the case.

Our in-house drugstore dispenses endorphins which are the body’s opiates with receptors and actions much like those of pain-relieving morphine.

The endorphins, however, are composed of relatively large molecules, “which are unable to pass the blood-brain barrier,” said Matthew Hill, a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University in New York.

runner's high - happy hormones

Neuroscientific Success of Runner’s High

The famed runner’s high has now been found not from endorphins.

Neuroscientists are now claiming that the credit is due to endocannabinoids that flood the brain after intense activity.

The smaller molecules are made up of lipids that have a similar effect on the body as the active ingredient in marijuana.

Receptors in the brain and the body allow these endocannabinoids to bind to the nervous system.

This then sets off reactions that decrease pain and anxiety and generally help us to de-stress and feel relaxed.

Discovering the Endocannabinoid Connection

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that 50 minutes of hard running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle had a significant impact.

It increases blood levels of endocannabinoid molecules.

They found that a widespread group of receptors, clustered in the brain but also found elsewhere in the body act on the nervous system.

It sets off reactions that reduce pain and anxiety and produce a floaty, free-form sense of wellbeing.

These endocannabinoids are composed of molecules known as lipids, which are ‘small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier.’

runner's high - movement decreases stress

The Emotional Effect of Endocannabinoids

Francis Chaouloff, from the University of Bordeaux in France, describes the effects of endocannabinoids. He calls them “pure happiness, elation, a feeling of unity with one’s self and/or nature, endless peacefulness, and inner harmony.”

This emotional effect adds depth to the joy of exercise, showcasing that the runner’s high is a holistic experience encompassing both body and mind.

WOW… the joy of exercise!

runner's high - exercise to destress

How about your exercise routine?

Are you incorporating enough physical activity into your daily life? How has exercise positively influenced your stress management and overall wellbeing?

Share your exercise journey and insights with us in the comments below. Let’s spark a discussion about the significance of staying active for a healthier and happier life!


P.S. If you’d like to know how likely your stress will lead to ill health, you may try our Stress Test below.

take the stress test
[activecampaign form=57 css=1]

How well do you roll with the punches?

Discover how you score against key resilience indicators and increase your ability to minimise stress, maximise time, live well and roll with the punches.


How it works:

  • Answer 25 simple questions
  • Generate results instantly
  • Receive feedback to enhance your score

Listen to the Podcast here

About the Author

Dr. John Hinwood
Dr. John Hinwood is a Global Leader in Stress Management. He is a very experienced and respected executive coach, mentor, consultant, sought after international speaker and author. He specialises in facilitation that leads clients out of the stress and into the calm. He has a reputation for innovative and transformational work in stress-life balance and mindset change for front line employees, to managers and business leaders.

Dr John Hinwood has shared the stage with Dr John Demartini, Dr Deepak Chopra, Dr Wayne Dyer, Dr Joe Dispenzia, Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul fame), Dr Bruce Lipton, Dr Masaru Emoto and others who are at the cutting edge of human behaviour and mindset change.

He has written 14 books with 4 being Amazon international best sellers. He has had papers published in academic journals and was once Captain/Coach of the Danish National Rugby Team. Dr. John’s experience as a health professional by training, successful businessman by effort and an inspiration by inclination has given him an awesome array of practical tools for success.