Deirdre Hassett: learning to embrace the natural high
Published 26/08/2014 | 02:30
Do you get runner's high? an acquaintance asked me curiously, as if it was some kind of Yeti sighting - a rare and miraculous occurrence, only to be enjoyed by the very few. As a casual runner, he struggles through each short run and is mystified by the mere possibility of this euphoric state. Well might he ask! I've skipped through the 20 mile mark during more than one Dublin City Marathon, manically high-fiving mystified spectators, buoyed on a wave of feel-good endorphins.
'Runner's high' can be experienced after any activity, not just running - it's elusive, though because you need to sustain some really hard effort at threshold for long enough to stress the body so that it starts releasing endorphins.
This is why most beginner runners don't experience it, as they are simply not fit enough to sustain that kind of effort for long.
If you're not fit enough or ready to exercise intensely enough to grab that runner's high, there are still lots of ways to grab feelings of well-being from working out.
There is the in-the-moment feeling of well-being when you enjoy running, cycling or whatever your chosen sport is - the sheer fun of being engaged in doing something you love.
Many people are outcome oriented, so their pleasure is gained from seeing the results of training (seeing that six-pack pop or discovering how much faster you can go in a race). Only exercising, however, because of perceived benefits without enjoying it in the moment: 'I will be thinner if I keep doing aerobics' while gritting your way through every step, makes the likelihood of sustaining your long-term exercise programme lower, so it's important to tap into the feel-good factor. Running (or cycling or swimming) has huge positive mood-boosting and anti-depressant effects, and even gentle exercise helps the body cope with other mental and physical stress.
I've come to really look forward to my early morning track workouts, not just for the mild runner's high afterwards from the effort but also the all-day mood boost from the early morning exercise.
If you're still building fitness, tap into the small joys of each training session: being outside in the elements, covering a new or familiar training route, the feeling of accomplishment afterwards when you can impress your work colleagues or friends with tales of going farther or faster. If one day, you find yourself, like me, dancing a jig at the finish line of a 5km or triathlon, heady with a legally-induced high - well, that's just a bonus.
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