Runner’s high – your body rewarding exercise.

Runners have long noted that euphoria and sense of well-being are often felt during and after a hard run. Indeed, this mental and physical reward is the reason many runners exercise. The ability to run quickly and for long distance is obviously an important evolutionary advantage, as in the capability  to catch food or not.

The “high” experienced by runners and others exercising vigorously has long been explained by endorphins and the opioid receptor system. But since this explanation came the discovery of the endocannabinoid (eCB) regulatory system consisting of receptors on nerve and other cells and natural cannabinoids (CBs) that activate these receptors,. For nearly a decade many have thought that this system better explains the mental lift and euphoria people often feel during and after robust exercise.

Now a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, “Wired to run: exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the ‘runner’s high“,  expands on the evolutionary importance of this pleasurable signalling.  The term “cursorial” means well adapted to running. Human being and dogs are cursorial, ferrets, not so much. In this research, intense exercise dramatically raised the levels of endocannabinoids in humans and dogs, in ferrets, not so much. The researchers concluded, “Thus, a neurobiological reward for endurance exercise may explain why humans and other cursorial mammals habitually engage in aerobic exercise despite the higher associated energy costs and injury risks, and why non-cursorial mammals avoid such locomotor behaviors.

This “neurobiological reward” occurs when your body’s own eCB, anandamide, activates cannabinoid receptors CB1 on nerve cells in brain and body.  Anandamide (AEA) and similar 2-AG, activate these nerve receptors in much the same way as does the plant cannabinoid THC, from the plant cannabis sativa. Activation of CB1 receptors by any of these cannabinoids provides a euphoric effect. As the release of anandamide is stimulated by intensive exercise such as running, your body provides a rewarding euphoria for a hard run or workout.

Regrettably perhaps, achieving this runner’s high requires fairly robust levels of exercise. Seemingly we must “pay for” the experience with quite hard physical labor; walking did not increase CB levels in this study. But don’t let that discourage you from walking; it offers dozens of other rewards, even health itself.

Sitting, at least too much, is a health hazard!

Buddhists, The Thinker and a fun ad for a nature chair a few years ago read, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” That is good advice for meditation and viewing nature, but it turns out that too much chair time is a health hazard itself. Prolonged physical inactivity, such as sitting, appears incompatible with true physical health. Blissful brains and bodies, it seems, should not sit for too long.

The modern workplace is a hazardous environment from the standpoint of discouraging physical activity. Most white collar worker are anchored to desk, computer and office chair. Electronic connectivity circumvents much need to physically move. Your body, however, has a physical need to move. We evolved as walking, running, moving beings. The modern environment can result in short movements from chair to chair to another chair, then to bed. This lifestyle is toxic in bypassing the needed effects of physical activity and movement. It is also obesogenic, fattening, especially when combined with an environment studded with cheap, calorie-dense foods. As it turns out, we have to earn the right to sit down, and pay for it with physical activity.

Even for people who exercise regularly it appears that prolonged sitting remains a health hazard. Apparently, jogging for an hour after work is not enough. To be healthy we must frequently step away from the chair and move. Recent Swedish research affirms that failure to get up out of the chair frequently enough can contribute to a host of modern maladies. Sitting in place, especially for over 4 hours, seems to upset the body’s metabolism. Control of fats and glucose is upset, predisposing one to such maladies as metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes.

Remarkably, Australian researchers recently reported an 11% increase in deaths for each daily hour of sit down time in front of the television!. Heart disease risks increased nearly 20% for each TV hour per day, a finding independent of other health habits.

When sleeping, a 160 pound office worker burns about 1 calorie each minute, 60 calories per hour, or less than 500 during an 8 hour night’s sleep. This is not much less than the 1.2 calories per minute spent by the same person while sitting and reading, only about 72 calories per hour. Light office work is not much more, less than 2 calories per minute. The seated worker burns less than 1,000 calories over an 8 hour work day.

The perfect antidote to prolonged sitting is walking. Avoiding over-long periods of sitting by interspersing short walks is a solution available to most seated workers. It takes only seconds to get up and begin walking. Immediately the body gains huge benefits. Blood circulation, made sluggish by sitting, immediately speeds up as your heart begins to accommodate the new demands caused by standing up and walking. The heart speeds up, flushing blood through your system, more air pulses into your lungs to oxygenate the coursing blood.

Walking quickly, a 160 pound office worker now quickly triples the rate his or her body burns calories, to six calories per minute. Breaking into a run, at a 10 minute per mile pace of 6 miles per hour, the jogger can double again calories burned per minute to 12! That’s is a calorie burned each 5 seconds.  Alternatively, if you have access to stairs, taking a few quick flights up and down can quickly counteract the ill health effects of too much sitting.

At the workplace, until a just a few years ago, the cigarette break was viewed as a reasonable activity. In 2010, the cessation of work for the purpose of inhaling poisons is less common. Surely the “walking break” or “stair-climbing” break can now be seen as an important activity that not only invigorates employees, as well as reducing their health care costs. Avoiding maladies caused by excess sitting is basic to the open-source health and wellness model. So don’t just sit there, for too long at least.

Medicine Grown by Hand: Medical Cannabis as an open-source model.

In his near-future dystopian novel, World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler presents a bleak portrayal of a small upstate New York town a couple of decades hence. The federal government had collapsed, Washington DC was nuked and the availability of gasoline and electricity ended. Ex-motor cycle toughs run the community’s central resource, the old town dump, now the source of riches such as nails. In this new world, owning a horse makes one wealthy.

In the novel, the system no longer provides medication nor medical care. The town’s doctor is the protagonist. He faces the frustrations and tragedies of having to practice medicine with no modern supplies, tools or services. With pharmaceuticals unavailable, the good doctor grows medicinal herbs. A key medication for pain relief and succor from various ailments is one not freely available before the collapse, cannabis. Treatment with cannabis is part of open-source health care in this new world. Seeds are the open source. Such self-treatment will become an ever more important part of our own health care future.

In health care, the term open-source includes self-care, with the individual taking more responsibility for his or her health and treatment. In some cases, the person (the term patient not quite right) becomes the source of treatment. Self-care itself is part of a larger wellness model that focuses upon a preventive lifestyle, especially with sufficient exercise and mindful nutrition, as key aspects of health.

Without doubt, more open-source medication, especially with cannabis, will be part of America’s health care future. For many people, including the 45 million uninsured Americans, the current health care system does not work. It has many problems:

  • The current medical care colossus sucks up one dollar out of 5 in the American economy.
  • The American system is by far the most expensive, and offers far less care for the dollar than in other countries.
  • Much of what passes for medical care is in reality too late and inefficient. It does not do well treating the huge class of auto-immune inflammatory disorders that most afflict the health of Americans with chronic degenerative diseases.
  • Medicine is (over)used to try to stave off injury of primarily a behavioral nature. Medical technology is used to try to fix damage caused by behaviors such as cigarette smoking and sedentary lifestyle.
  • Pharmaceutical drugs are prescribed for most ailments. Mortality from these drugs alone is a major cause of death.

The choices and actions of Americans, especially regarding physical (in)activity and (over)eating behaviors underlie much of what ails us. In most of the degenerative, inflammatory diseases that bedevil modern Americans, much medical care is merely palliative, relieving just the symptoms, symptoms of behavior-caused damage. Obesity, flaccid body composition and sickly organs damaged from cigarette smoking and alcohol poisoning are examples.

Type II diabetes is essentially a self-chosen disease; walking 10,000 steps a day is a robust preventative, even cure for Type II diabetes. Personal health actions such as increasing physical exercise, if universally adopted, could abolish many of the inflammatory ails that now pass for disease.

  • To ignore these preventatives and to proceed as before with a late intervention, medical and pharmaceutical approach to life-style-based health problems is folly.
  • Just as the pre-diabetic can literally walk away from diabetes, so too our general health practices determine how healthy we really are. The 10,000 steps-a-day prescription is not just for those threatened by diabetes or obesity, but serve as a good goal for nearly everyone. Such activity is open-source self-care at its best.
  • Eating daily 5 to 9 fruits and vegetables is the core of healthy nutrition. Rich in nutrients and sparse in calories, this plant based foundation provides much fiber. High fiber helps us stay full and tune the digestive system.

Aspirin-taking is open-source self-medication. Because aspirin is a legal and available drug that provides relief for a wide variety of ailments, we are free to use it for self-medication. Aspirin is very useful, but not without some dangers, such as attacking the stomach. Like most drugs, it has a lethal dose and several hundred people die from aspirin poisoning each year. Still, its ability to reduce pain and inflammation and to provide protective cardio-vascular effects make it a key open source medication.

Another substance to relieve a wide variety of symptoms such as pain and inflammation is cannabis. Unlike aspirin, no deaths are associated with its use. Like aspirin, cannabis is medically useful not just for a small array of discrete problems. Although it does provide fairly specific prevention and therapy of maladies such as glaucoma, and works wonderfully for reducing the worse symptoms of chemotherapy, its applications are broad. It is useful in treating a dozen major diseases. Other benefits are less specific. The cannabinoids in cannabis are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and analgesic. The latter, pain relief, points to the more generalized medical benefits of cannabinoids.

Pain is one of the chief reasons people seek medical care at all. What percentage of the humankind, what single person, does not experience pain at sometime in life? To quell pain is the reason most people take an aspirin. To quell pain is the main reason tens of millions of Californians in the future may take a tincture of cannabis.

  • A century hence, and hopefully far sooner, Americans will regain the pain-relieving, self-health remedies available to their ancestors. They already have in California and a dozen other states.

In a country supposedly searching for national health care answers, the open-source, self-care benefits of medical cannabis must not be ignored. Medical cannabis will not be ignored by those without insurance, nor those increasing millions who become aware of the superiority of pain relief and other medical benefits available to them with cannabis. Bizarrely, conservatives who worry that a national health care system would deny medical choices are the first to deny totally American citizens the right to choose cannabis-based medications.

Americans will make these choices anyway, using the cannabis seed as the open-source basis for their medication. Hopefully they will have state laws in place to provide them some safety from the dangers inflicted upon them by their government, as they again produce their medicine grown by hand.