The legal high that happy people get addicted to
Feeling down in the dumps? The best therapy might just be strapping on a pair of joggers and taking to the streets.
You know the feeling: You’ve just come back from a quick 5km run, one you squeezed into your lunch break during a busy day working from home. You’re sweaty, you’re breathless, your legs are wobbly, your head is spinning and yet you feel, somehow… incredible. At 11am you were pouring another cup of coffee and considering an afternoon siesta, but now you feel invincible.
It’s called the ‘Runner’s High’ and if only they could bottle it, because it’s the stuff of magic.
The positive effects of running – not just on the body but the brain – are pretty well-documented. Endless studies back up this ‘Runner’s High’, agreeing that pounding the pavement has a profound effect neurologically, lifting your mood, improving memory and focus and helping you stay on-task.
Researchers from the University Hospital of Bonn in Germany even found recently that running actually clears your head. Using magnetic resonance imaging, they discovered that running has the ability to activate the parts of the brain that process and clarify your emotions. So, if you’re wondering whether to book that session with your shrink or tie up your sneakers and take to the streets, the latter option might be just as beneficial.
The ultimate stress-buster
Nadia Roosens, FBI radio DJ says that for her, running is an amazing way to relieve stress. “It’s being able to focus on the one task at that moment – breathing,” she says. “The repetition of putting one foot in front of the other and pacing my breath is such a therapeutic exercise! And it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go, it’s your own journey.”
Mum-of-three Claire took up running at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and truly credits it with saving her sanity during her darkest moments. “I’ve been running for a year now and it’s had a profound effect on my mental health,” she says, admitting she was at a very low point anyway, when COVID hit in early 2020. “I find that if I don’t run, I begin to spiral again. Some days I really don’t feel like it, but I know – even if I walk half of it – just getting outdoors with my favourite music in my ears does wonders for my mind… and when I really smash out a good run, I feel such a high for days afterwards.”
Deb Baruah is a personal trainer who runs Point You Fit in Sydney. She says that while she sees many people start running because they want to get fit or lose weight, they stick with it because they can’t believe how much it helps them, psychologically. “In all my years of running and training clients, I’ve seen everything… I’ve seen people dealing with family members who have cancer, or going through divorce, all kinds of trauma, and running was a huge outlet for them,” she says, adding that it’s not only the physical stimulation, but the ability to try something new and succeed. “It makes you wonder what else is possible if you put your mind to it,” she says.
Public servant Sara says she wanted to get fit but resisted the idea of running because she thought she would look silly. “I was overweight,” she says, “and just stuck in a cycle of self-loathing. I thought if I went out in my daggy trackies and worn-out trainers, people would think I was a fraud, so I didn’t bother.” For Sara, the key to overcoming her fear was investing in some decent activewear. “I certainly didn’t look like a runner,” she says, “which meant I didn’t feel like I could be a runner.”
Sara admits that while at first it was just about appearances, she quickly realised the difference the right kit makes to your workout. “Initially all I wanted was supportive tights that sucked in my belly,” she laughs, “but then I couldn’t believe how much better I felt wearing fabric that let me breathe, and wearing shoes that supported my feet. I chucked away my old sneakers and bought myself some adidas Ultraboost 21 trainers that literally feel like they’re lifting me up with every step I take. I thought of it as a necessary investment towards my health, but it’s actually been the game-changer that’s helped me really enjoy running!”
While it might seem as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, Deb Baruah knows that for many, running is truly as much a mental battle as a physical one, but one which, when overcome, can’t be beaten.
“I have trained clients who could barely run to the end of the street, but over time can manage 5km,” Deb says, “and I can see how much healthier and how empowered it makes them feel. It’s an incredible thing to be able to witness. It really is a high like no other.”
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