For the past week it was business as usual...collar on, leash in hand, and out the door for our daily run. Ms. Maru & I have jogged together for 9 years now. She’s a Carolina or Basenji breed, I think…
I am a woman. She is a dog. She is my best friend and everything else doesn’t really matter. I do know this. She still runs like a beautiful gazelle and I can’t beat her. She has always been hyper excited to go out in the early morning but I never really thought about it. She’s a dog. Dogs like to go outside. Heck, I like to go outside. But as I’ve gotten older, I have started to question things. I wanted to know WHY she likes to run. Since she wasn’t going to tell me I began to do some research. Sure enough, there was a scientific reason why both of us are addicted to running.
Anthropologist and runner David Raichlen from the University of Arizona discovered that after running, levels of endocannabinoids – chemicals found in marijuana that give you a feeling of euphoria – are higher in humans and dogs and this encourages them to run again. The actual study compared a human, dog and ferret that were put on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Blood samples showed a significant increase in the levels of endocannabinoids in the humans and dogs after moderate intensity exercise. Conversely, there was no spike in either of them after just walking. The ferrets saw no increase in the levels of the “happy” chemicals throughout the whole study. Evolution may be the reason since ferrets did not need to be long distance runners to survive.
Raichlen’s findings suggest that exercise helps the brain to grow and boosts the body’s production of neurotrophins – chemicals that build and maintain brain cells. He said that inactive people may not be fit enough to hit the exercise intensity that leads to this sort of rewarding sensation. But, they could build up their exercise tolerance to the point that they do cross the threshold and reach the level of intensity that produces the reward of the high. That seems to be true of athletes. The better they felt after a run showed more endorphins circulating in their brains.
The euphoric factor aside, running has other benefits. Dr. Christina Morganti at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Maryland found that the amount of blood your heart pumps increases, blood vessels and muscles absorb more oxygen and you are able to build new bone. Moreover, running has a powerful impact on your state of mind. A longtime competitive runner, Dr. Morganti found this out first hand when she got injured and had to stop. She felt her life begin to fall apart – from her ability to cope with the stresses of daily life to her organizational skills juggling job and motherhood. She felt that everything in general was not quite as acute when she was able to run and be fit.
Today, there is a growing appreciation of the value of having a workout companion, reflected in the popularity of websites such as exercise-friends.com, which matches partners in athletics. While running doesn’t require a partner, I think the ideal running mate is a dog. They are non-competitive, you will never outrun them and they will never make fun of your slow speed. Plus, they are silent, never show up late or argue which course to take. In fact, they only complain when you don’t run at all. Even Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, ranks exercise first ahead of discipline and affection as the key to a well behaved dog.
What started out as a very simple question as to why Maru likes to run has given me a renewed incentive to keep running every day. It seems like an addiction that is good for both of us.