Runner’s High could be an Evolutionary Advantage

People who exercise on a regular basis will sometimes talk about the euphoric “runner’s high” that can happen after a good workout. Researchers now suggest that this could be thanks to evolution.

“Runners high” has been greatly publicised in recent years – and not only by exercise junkies. Scientists have shown that continuous aerobic exercise can definitely produce chemicals in the body which are remarkably similar to narcotics, allowing runners to push past their limits and even past pain. Some athletes are even considered to be addicted to this high.

Research conducted by University of Arizona anthropologist, David Raichlen, suggests that these chemicals may be thanks to an evolutionary rewiring of our brains to encourage running and other high aerobic activity.

Many anthropologists have suggested that early humans developed the ability to run long distances to chase down and exhaust prey. Raichlen’s research suggests that while meat was a probably factor, the “runners high” may have been an extra reward.

Raichlen’s Experiment

Some of the chemicals produced by the body during exercise are cannabinoids – the same chemicals found in marijuana. Raichlen hypothesized that this may not be a process exclusive to humans and could be an evolutionary payoff to help species survive better.

During his experiments, Raichlen took dogs, which are distance runners, and ferrets, which are not, and placed them on a treadmill to track the effects. The results showed that while dogs produced the drug, ferrets did not.

While these results aren’t conclusive and there is further research to be done, according to Raichlen it suggests “some level of aerobic exercise was encouraged by natural selection, and it may be fairly deep in our evolutionary roots.”

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