Athletes and Emotion

I was intrigued by the link made between athletes and processing of emotion presented in class. Upon further investigation, I had a little trouble finding any empirical evidence to further support the idea that weren’t  either very general or published in the 1970’s.  However, I did find some new and interesting research on Runner’s high. Turns out that investigation into the neural substrates involved in Runner’s high have not received much attention in the past.  However:

“this study provides first in vivo evidence that release of endogenous opioids occurs in frontolimbic brain regions after sustained physical exercise and that there is its close correlation to perceived euphoria of runners. This suggests a specific role of the opioid system in the generation of the runner’s high sensation. In a more general view, it might also be assumed that opioidergic effects in frontolimbic brain structures mediate not only some of the therapeutically beneficial consequences of endurance exercise on depression and anxiety in patients (Morgan 1985) but also the addictive aspects of excessive sports, where injured athletes continue their training in spite of detrimental consequences to their health (Chapman and De Castro 1990). Such phenomena will have to be addressed in future studies focusing on not only physical exercise, mood, and reward but also interactions between endogenous opioids and other neurotransmitter systems and modulators, particularly dopamine and endocannabinoids (Dietrich and McDaniel 2004Gardner 2005).”

What a nice lead-in to our discussion on how the reward system influences behavior… to be continued with The Pleasure (and Pain) of Maybe!

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5 thoughts on “Athletes and Emotion

  1. Lauren, this is really interesting. I can only imagine how euphoric a runner must be after the Boston Marathon! I wonder if a runner must run a certain distance, or at a certain pace in order to trigger a runner’s high. As for those people who hate running, I wonder if perhaps the opioid system that generates the runner’s high affects people to varying degrees.

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  2. I definitely can relate to the content of this article. I have known many people who have become “addicted to running.” This research seems to prove that it is possible to become addicted to this release of endogenous opioids and therefore addicted to exercise.

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  3. I recently ran the Portland half marathon and around the tenth mile when I should have been feeling pure exhaustion, I began to feel inexplicably better. The pain of the previous ten miles began to disappear and I was able to pick up my pace and finish the race strong. At the time, I attributed this sudden improvement to the fact that I knew I was almost finished and that the finish line was near; I figured I was just ignoring the fatigue I was feeling. However, after reading this post I feel it is more likely that I experienced a runner’s high, and that the sudden release of endorphins gave me the energy to make it through the final three miles. Though I had trained by going on many long runs, I had never experienced a runner’s high before, which makes me believe that this experience was due to running at a pace faster than my normal training pace. Additionally, I wonder if the experience of running with thousands of other runners may have helped to trigger my runner’s high.

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  4. This is a really fascinating phenomenon Lauren. I was wondering if people who run at a high level (be it long distances or fast speeds, or a combination of both) very frequently develop a tolerance over time. If there is such a thing, would runners develop a higher tolerance the more they run? There was an interesting book published recently called Born to Run about a reclusive tribe of Indians in Mexico that have mastered techniques which allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest. I haven’t read it but I have heard interesting things about it, it may address issues such as these surrounding the runner’s high.

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  5. I think that the most interesting aspect of this article is the addictive aspect of exercise, and to a greater extent, sports. Because these activities are often associated with healthy behavior and general fun, I have always thought that people who seem addicted to their physical activity of preference were addicted because of psychological reasons, rather than physical reasons. It is very interesting to think that a physiological reason causes an injured or old athlete to play a sport even if their better judgment tells them that it is dangerous for them to do so. If nothing else, it helps to explain Brett Favre’s behavior over the last few years.

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