When you start to run, your body begins to change: Your breathing may become heavy, and your pulse quickens as the heart pumps harder to move oxygenated blood to your muscles and brain.
As you continue to run, your body releases hormones called endocannabinoids. Popular culture identifies this as “runner’s high,” a short-lasting, deeply euphoric state following intense exercise. This short euphoric phase is due to endocannabinoids — biochemical substances similar to cannabis, but naturally produced by the body.
Exercise increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream. Unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids can move easily through the cellular barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain, where these mood-improving neuromodulators promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.
The mental benefits don’t stop when you finish your run though— regular cardiovascular exercise can spark growth of new blood vessels to nourish the brain. Exercise may also produce new brain cells in certain locations through a process called neurogenesis, which may lead to an overall improvement in brain performance and prevent cognitive decline.
- David Linden, Ph.D, The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, n.d, accessed September 6th, 2021