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Exercise: Is it nature's best drug?
You don't have to achieve a runner's high to get an emotional lift from exercise

Date published: 5/4/2008

BY DONYA CURRIE

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

The hundreds of runners gathered in downtown Fredericksburg last Sunday morning for a 10-kilometer race were motivated by a variety of factors: fitness, camaraderie and free pancakes at the end, to name a few. Many would also say they laced up their sneakers that chilly morning--and almost daily--in pursuit of the so-called "runner's high."

The scientific jury is still out on the validity of the high brought on by exercise, but more and more studies are documenting the fact that endorphins-- the body's feel-good hormones--are released during

vigorous exercise and can contribute to an overall sense of well-being.

Endorphins, which are similar to pain-killing opioids such as morphine, also are released during pleasurable activities such as sex, listening to music and laughing heartily. And according to a growing body of research, they're released even during moderate exercise.

"It's a euphoric feeling that all of sudden makes me feel like I can run forever, I can do anything," said Sally Bennett, 41, of Stafford County, a longtime runner who first discovered the endorphin-induced runner's high when she was 15 and running the hills of West Virginia. "That's the feeling that I'm addicted to."

No doubt Bennett, one of the runners at last Sunday's 10-k race, is motivated by the need to find time away from her four young sons, stay in shape and chat with her like-minded friends. Yet the endorphin rush, she said, is a main reason she puts in the miles.

CLUES ABOUT ADDICTION

As a minor-league hockey goalie, Rob Bast, now owner of Anytime Fitness in Spotsylvania County, said he believes endorphins helped his performance. Suddenly, the 100-mile-per-hour puck slowed down, and he made miraculous saves. He felt powerful and what he and other athletes describe as "in the zone."

In a study released in March, German scientists scanned long-distance runners' brains and found increased release of endorphins in certain areas of the athletes' brains during a two-hour run.


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FEEL-GOOD HORMONES

Endorphins are chemicals in the body that are released during exercise. Not only can they provide fit people with a sense of well-being, research indicates endorphins can also relieve the suffering of those chronically in pain. Endorphins are considered by some doctors to be the body's natural pain relievers, blocking pain signals sent to the brain.

To read more about endorphins, see:

mayoclinic.com/health/chronic-pain/AR00017

medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp? articlekey=55001