Ask The Fitness Psych: The Elusive Runner’s High
In the RockMyRun ‘Ask The Fitness Psych’ blog series, we have fitness, sports and health behavior science coach Dr. Michael Mantell answer questions from RunRockers! Have your own question? Email Dr. Mantell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I run because I like feeling healthy, because it’s good for me, and because I like the feeling of accomplishment. But I so often hear about people who “love” running and can’t wait to hit the trails or track. Do they simply get a bigger rush of endorphins than I do? Or are they more addicted or responsive to the endorphins than I am? I feel like I’m missing something. Running is hard work….I can’t say that I “love” it or crave doing it. I’d take the couch any day and it takes willpower to run multiple times a week. I am proud of my willpower despite the fact that I don’t love any of the exercise I do. – RunRocker Connie
What a great series of questions, Connie! Thanks for asking…
First, let’s talk about the good old “runner’s high” that results from endorphins produced during a run. These neurotransmitters are released by the pituitary gland, and “feel good” motivational little devils that they are they actually find a way of attaching to two areas of the brain that leave that goofy smile on our faces – the prefrontal cortex and the limbic area. Guess what, Connie? Those friends who “love” running and can’t wait to hit the trails? It’s because those endorphins are finding their way to the very same areas of the brain (the limbic and prefrontal cortex areas) that are stimulated when we are involved in romance or are listening to great music! So YES, your friends do “love the love” they feel from running. The interesting thing about these love chemicals is that their effects increase with routine. Get into a running routine and you’ll be rewarded with lots of “love” like your friends, and even more, with optimal health.
I agree about the “hard work” you find in running, and thus not craving it. However, if want to fall in love with that love feeling, try following these steps:
- Stop focusing on what’s wrong with running—how hard it’s been, how boring it’s been, how you haven’t loved it. Get the focus off the past.
- Forget goal setting…that’s right! I said it. Instead of goals, focus on intentionality, the planned actions you need to find a way to run, not the intended outcomes of running. Goals are about the future and may or may not happen. Intentions are about the present and what you actually do. Implementation intentions trump simple goals.
- Start as slow and as brief as you’d like. A quick five-minute jog or a quicker paced around-the-block run to get you going, will be like a first date. Check it out and see if you’ll accept a second date. Make sure it’s a fun first date—think of a cool way to enjoy the experience, no matter how brief it is.
- Consider a run buddy, as running friends are always helpful for keeping you going. Especially if it’s someone who is a bit—just a bit—more into the love than you are. Don’t try to keep up with an experienced full-fledged run lover.
- Let yourself fall in love. Don’t fight it. Love the process of your run. Feel those endorphins? Track them, journal them and be mindfully aware of that feeling you get. Want to turbocharge it all? Be sure your choice of music (or mix on RockMyRun!) is the right music and that it gets your heart beating and puts you in the mood for love. Then let your endorphins do their work.
These five steps cover all of the key behavior science behind loving to run, or any exercise, and creating that internal motivation you see in your friends. There is no magic in running a course, or lifting a dumbbell, or swinging a kettlebell or hanging on a TRX. These are simply activities. “The link is what you think” and these five steps will help turn your mindset around, and get you no longer feeling like you are missing something, but rather, feeling the love you see in your friends faces.
Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has served as an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and as the Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for the American Council on Exercise. He is a behavioral sciences coach and consultant, an Advisor to many fitness and health organizations, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Council on Active Aging, the Chief Consultant for Behavior Sciences for the Premier Fitness Camp at Omni La Costa, a presenter for Rancho La Puerta, a best-selling author and an international fitness-health speaker. In 2013, Greatist.com named Dr. Mantell as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”