Happy Feet—Why Running Makes You Happy

March 2016 View more

You may have heard the saying that exercise is good medicine. If your lifestyle includes a regular cardio workout, you know it’s true. Most runners will also tell you, that no matter how good or bad of a day they’re having, a good run makes them feel better.

Runner’s High

Regular runners crave the “runner’s high”—the rush of endorphins, which trigger a positive and energizing outlook on life. New research has found that this phenomenon is also caused by dopamine, one of the most important neurotransmitters to motivate the body. Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Company, agrees that running creates a feeling of happiness. “I know it does. Not just from the research, but from personal experience. I can’t think of a run where I didn’t feel better after doing it,” said Hartner. “Even tonight, during a run with my nephew who’s training for bootcamp and struggling with his motivation, I told him if he can just put his running gear on and get out the door, he’ll never regret doing it. It’s the simple satisfaction of doing something that you know makes you stronger and healthier, both physically and mentally.”

Health Benefits

Experts say regular workouts of 30 minutes, five times a week, have better health benefits than any pill a doctor could prescribe. Running in particular can prevent type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Experts have found that running is also good for your emotional and mental health as well.

Leptin Levels

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Montreal looked closely at the hormone called leptin. Usually leptin regulates your energy storage by telling your body when it has enough fuel and energy. The researchers discovered that leptin levels fluctuate in obese people and those under tremendous stress. On the other hand, runners have leptin levels that tend to fall, meaning the lower leptin levels are, the better the performance. In the Journal Cell Metabolism, scientists say this could send a hunger signal to the brain’s pleasure center to generate the rewarding effects of running. This in turn, could be the reason athletes crave a regular run. “I’ve spent much of the last two years unable to run because of an injury and subsequent surgery on my Achilles. But just three weeks ago, I did my first track workout in almost three years. As I finished that workout it struck me how much I missed and loved the feeling and satisfaction of making myself feel better, the fatigue after the workout, and the—sorry for the cliche—kinship of a group supporting each other, doing what we love,” said Hartner.

Building Social Bonds

Research has also shown that forming friendships over the miles keeps runners happy too. Training partners provide accountability and motivation at all levels. “I think anyone who has run with a team or a group will tell you that they help take you to places you couldn’t go on your own. You share in each other’s successes and help each other work through the setbacks. The accountability to the group will result in a much higher rate of success in sticking to a program. It’s the best way to stay motivated,” said Hartner.

You do not have to be a marathon runner to feel the psychological benefits of exercise. Harvard Medical School experts remind us that even walking, stretching, doing mental exercises, practicing breathing and muscle relaxation techniques can all break down stress levels and create happiness. Meditation can relax your mind, and make you feel more positive and reduces stress. Even chores like gardening and cleaning the house can get you moving and lift your spirits.