Defining runner's high
The notion of runner's high itself has its critics, in part because what any one person means by "high" is impossible to quantify. Although some people feel euphoric after their daily workout, others find the experience gratifying but hardly exhilarating. People who feel especially good may simply be releasing more endorphins; on the other hand, their state of bliss could also be related to improved body image, a sense of accomplishment and a host of other factors ranging from an enhanced immune system to oxygen deprivation.

Most likely, credit for the feel-good effect -- reportedly prompted not just by running, but by cycling, tennis and nearly any other intense cardio exercise -- has to do with a number of body chemicals and systems that constantly interact. For example, feeling a rush points to the involvement of the hormone adrenaline, says Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., chief of the biological psychiatry division at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. "Adrenaline evolved as part of our fight-or-flight response to stress, and it's what gives us that geared-up feeling."

The satisfaction associated with exercise probably also involves dopamine. This chemical messenger turns on the brain's reward system and makes people want to repeat enjoyable experiences, everything from munching chocolate or having sex to running, drinking or using illicit drugs.

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