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Researchers Ferret Out Reasons for Runner's High

Dogs and humans release natural painkillers after running, but ordinarily sedentary ferrets that run do not. The chemical compounds may be an adaptation to reward the necessary behavior in running species. Christopher Intagliata reports

You've probably had the feeling. Your running shoes are pounding the pavement—then suddenly your pain fades away, and you're feeling euphoric. The runner's high. But that biological perk may be limited to mammals that evolved for endurance exercise—like us. So says a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology. [David A. Raichlen et al., "Wired to run: exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the 'runner's high'"]

Researchers had humans and dogs—both natural-born runners—jog a half hour on a treadmill. Then they sampled their blood for endocannabinoids, some of the compounds thought to trigger the runner's high. As expected, humans and dogs had much higher levels after the run. But when ferrets—a sedentary species—took the same 30-minute trot, they had no spike in those feel-good molecules.

The authors say that's because long-distance running could have helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors find more food—thus increasing their reproductive success. And they speculate that natural selection may have linked up a feel-good reward to that beneficial behavior. These days of course, this ancient trait won't help us find extra calories—but it may encourage us to run 'em off.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
 

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