Running under the influence

In the movie Legally Blonde, ambitious law student Elle Woods states her first defense plainly. “I just don’t think that Brooke could’ve done this,” she explains to the judge. “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” While Elle’s logic would not hold up in a real court of law, her statement brings up an interesting idea. Does exercise and running specifically truly lead to an increase in happiness?

“Runner’s high” is a sensation of utter happiness that pushes a runner to get through their miles in a better mood, possibly even at a faster pace. Writer Aleisha Fetters noted that this increase in physical endurance releases a second wave of strength, helping the runner to temporarily forget their pains, cramps, blisters, and sweat. Similar sensations have been reported in other physically taxing sports such as weightlifting, skiing, and even rugby.

Runner’s World quoted anthropology professor David Raichlen, who suggested runner’s high might have roots in ancient civilizations, where running was required for the competition to get food first. Similarly, a September NewsWise article discussed how happy chemicals started to go off in the brains of mice were running to reach their meals. The runner’s high might be something of a progressed survival instinct. The role that metabolism plays in the increase of moods is another intriguing factor.

While runners can try to reach a runner’s high to cover their pain, the run’s pace must match what an individual’s body is capable of. Professor Matthew Hill of the University of Calgary emphasized that while the endorphin releases can be helpful, that “feel good” state of happiness is likely to crumble if runners push themselves too hard.

Derek Bradshaw, a junior tennis player, found himself feeling frustrated rather than accomplished after he ran. He was determined to increase his speed and reach specific time goals, yet he ended up stressed and disappointed. Derek ended up gaining more happiness during runs where his pace was comfortable and he had his roommate along. Thanks to his dedication, Bradshaw completed the Chicago marathon in five hours and 15 minutes this past October.

The New York Times published an article, “Yes, Running Can Make You High,” which brought up the point that truly euphoretic levels of exercise happiness were best achieved through harsh endurance events. A great example of this would be marathon runners. Junior Jonathan Robey, who has run three marathons, listed the 20 mile run, which is the longest distance during his training, as his most rewarding run. His favorite running experience of all time also went to a 12-mile run he did with his father.
A passion for running, even in harsh environments, would confuse most people, but for the runner who has experienced that endorphin-fueled drive, it only inspires them to push harder.

In addition to endorphins, running is also capable of releasing a natural chemical called endocannabinoids, which Runner’s World stated produces a buzz quite similar to marijuana’s effects. This can play out as a calming effect, leveling a runner’s moods and helping them to zone out from the rest of the world as they focus on their pace.

Sophomore Nicolette Roache stated that she does use running to relieve her stress. During her running she focuses her mind on getting it done, telling herself, “I’m going to do this thing.” She also described herself as a self-talker, which motivates her to tune out the distractions. “I tell myself, ‘You got this girl’ and ‘Don’t wimp out.’” Nicolette said. “It’s a form of insanity, but I don’t care.”

With different individuals experiencing different levels of endorphins and endocannabinoids, it’s impossible to say that this “runner’s high” can be experienced by every runner. How- ever, the fact that endorphins can be achieved through a great variety of exercise is almost universally acknowledged. So while yes, Elle Woods had a good point there, a “happy high” was probably not a legitimate explanation to get Brooke off the hook for murder.

Mariah Garratt

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