A natural high?

Sky high
photo credit: Simon Whitaker

Most of the things we humans do for pleasure are, once you get down to it, an attempt to manipulate brain chemicals. Sure, we might say that we go to concerts because we love music, but really, we love the fact that music releases dopamine in the brain cos it feels pretty darn nice. (Really, it does do this, according to those oracles at the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12135590). The same can be said about sex, funny films, earning money, completing difficult tasks, eating nice food, and even love. (Apart from the love I have, in case my other half is reading this: our love is obviously on a higher plane…)

Which is why the whole alcohol thing is so understandable. Humans are basically driven to give those lovely chemicals a bit of a boost, and alcohol (and other drugs) are a way to cut out the middle man and cut straight to the chase.

Talking of cutting to the chase, I’ll get to the point of this post. Once you cut out alcohol completely, it leaves you with a big gap to fill: how to chase those pleasurable chemicals now? Apart from the obvious such as taking up a little heroin habit (something that was actually suggested to me – I’m assuming in jest), this leaves a big hole. But the great thing about having a big hole, is that there’s so much more with which to fill it. (Yes I know, those with a filthy mind, I could have phrased this slightly more pleasantly. But hey ho.)

All that time spent chasing that high down the pub, or over a romantic meal, leaves room for other, healthier, and dare I say it more pleasurable pursuits. In my case, one of those is running.

What do you think about while you’re running?

The runner’s high is well-documented and, trust me, it’s real. The sun on your face, the wind in your hair… OK, well that part is rubbish, but the smug self-satisfaction you get after you finish is priceless. I’m kidding, before the die-hard runners tell me I’m doing it wrong. I do love the act of running. The pain and the struggle is all part of what I love about it.

The difference between running and drink is that running adds to your life, whereas I truly believe alcohol takes away. Every time you have a few drinks, you sell a little piece of yourself for an hour of pleasure, and you’re left depleted. But every time you run, the opposite happens: you gain something, you emerge from the pain and the bursting lungs and the burning muscles a different person, something better than yesterday.

Now I’ll be honest, on the running scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is Paula Radcliffe and 1 is Great Grandma, I probably weigh in at about a 3. I’ve been running for years but never really improve; that car tyre round my thighs stubbornly remains and my 5k times never really progress beyond that of the geriatric walking society. But to me it doesn’t really matter. (Well OK, it does drag a little bit). At the end of the day, I am much better with running than without it, and it spills into every other area of my life. I am a harder worker, and I am a palatable(ish) person to live with; I have more energy; I sleep better; and I feel motivated to eat more healthily (sometimes).

But most importantly, it keeps those chemicals flowing round my brain. Which, at the end of the day, is the best that life has to offer, with or without drink.

So what’s your view? Do you think a pint down the pub is a little slice of heaven, or do you think there are better ways to chase that elusive high? Please feel free to comment below.