Medical science helps to explain "runner's high"

Published: Feb. 9, 2012 at 4:09 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 19, 2012 at 4:09 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - One of the things i'm most passionate about is running. It provides me with good health, camaraderie with fellow runners and my daily dose of an "endorphin high."

There's a new marathon, half-marathon and 10k coming to town in March and that's putting a focus on the sport.

If you're not a runner, but desire to become one, I'd like to help you.

First, take a look at what happens to the human body when you run. I went to the Clinical Exercise Research Center in the University of South Carolina's School of Public Health to become a guinea pig.

To see what happens when running, I will be wired with electrodes. First, parts of my body are scrubbed so these pads will stick to the skin. They are strategically placed around the heart area.

Then ten electrodes are attached to each pad. Talk about feeling wired! The electrodes will measure how the body responds to exercise.  In this case -- running.

Dr. Russ Pate is a professor of Exercise Science and long regarded as one of the most knowledgeable researchers and runners around.

"We're designed to be active animals and our bodies do best when we are active and I'm constantly struck by how we're learning more and more about exactly how that's the case," said Pate.

In the lab, my heart rate is observed through the electrode readings. Our hearts immediately speed up with exercise and the pulse increases with intensity. But not all at once.

One of my favorite reasons for running? What many call the "runner's high." It's the releasing of neurochemicals in the brain as you exercise, produced as your core temperature increases.  It enables that "ahhh" effect.

"That may be, you know, related to the relaxation, or sort of heightened sense of wellness that is sometimes associated with participation in exercise," said Pate.

This next test involved a mask to test VO2 Max. Patrick Crowley helped me with the test.

"We'll be able to collect here how much oxygen you're consuming during exercise," said Crowley.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use in a period of usually intense activity.

Running, like all exercises, reduces your blood pressure, so much so that many people can get off medications for high blood pressure when doing a regular exercise plan.

Running is also a weight-bearing activity which helps strengthen your skeleton, helping prevent or greatly reduce the risk of osteoporosis. But that pounding can have its negative side.

"We do know runners are at some increased risk for orthopaedic injuries and shin splints and problems of that sort, so runners have to be careful of not over-exercising," said Pate

Beginner runners or those trying to get back into the sport can get tripped up on doing too much, too soon.

"What we don't do so well with is very abrupt changes or very rapid increases in the dose of exercise that we're doing," said Pate.
So the way to go is slow & easy. And just never stop.

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