Do You Get High?

So this is not a post about illegal drug use, though goodness knows I have some opinions*** about that.

Nope, sorry, this post is not about that kind of getting high. It's mostly about the wholesome, socially acceptable, completely legal "exercise" kind of high.

When I first started running, I was only 17 years old. So naturally the prospect of a "runners high" was quite intriguing! As I recall I got there sometimes--nothing earth-shattering at first, but definitely a bit of a dreamy, buzzy, euphoric feeling.

Now, more than 30 years later, I still find myself chasing and sometimes achieving the "high." While often it's not all that different from a slighty trippy "very good mood," other times it can be downright intense.

In fact a couple of days ago I had one of those "OMG I am SO HIGHHH!!!! episodes at the gym, and I'm sure people nearby must have thought I'd spiked my water bottle with Ecstasy--I was grinning like an idiot, dancing around on my elliptical machine, and even giggling a little because I sometimes I just couldn't help it.

Is there a secret formula for achieving an endorphin high from exercise? Well, I don't know if it would work for everyone, but I've found that for me: yes there is!

And in some ways the secret is sort of like the "one rule for a flat stomach": it involves cheating.

Can Everyone Get High From Exercise?
My sense is that perhaps not everyone is wired to achieve this, or at least not easily. I was surprised, for example, reading this New York Times article about "Runner's High," that there has always been a bunch of skepticism about it, and scientists have only recently even managed to prove that a "high" exists. And all the examples they cited tended to be of people doing something incredibly intense, or exercising for really long periods of time (like hours), running marathons or whatever.

Note: I do not perform aerobic exercise for hours at a time. Nor do I achieve the sort of intensity they're talking about with the half-assed interval training I make myself do. So I suspect most people's brains need more coaxing than mine does.

Crabby's Secret Recipes For an Exercise High
These will of course will not work for many of you, due to health, religious, or logistical reasons, or because your brains work differently. I have two different recipes for two different kind of "highs."

Even following the recipe, I don't get results every single time--otherwise, I wouldn't have any problem motivating to get to the gym. Also, the "highs" rarely hit more for more than a few minutes at a time, maybe two or three times during a lucky workout.

Intense Body-Slammin' Recipe:

1. I drink coffee beforehand. (This is the cheaty part). However, I drink a big cup of coffee every morning and yet do not wander around in a constant state of euphoria, so it's clearly only part of the process.

2. I choose a reliable high-inducing form of exercise. For the intense kind of high, I need something bouncy that allows me to propel my whole body up and down--like a step aerobic class or an elliptical machine. Dancing is good too. A bicycle ride, while fun, will not get me high.

3. I bring tunes. Music, for me, is critical. I must have a playlist with at least a few songs I absolutely LOVE, going at exactly the right speed.

4. Helpful hormones. Ladies, you know that part of the cycle where you're a bit amped anyway? This seems to be the best time for getting high.

5. Decent Mood. Being a cranky sort, it's easy to let myself get irritated by crowded gyms, hot temperatures, badly maintained equipment, etc. If I want to get high, I have to consciously remind myself that while I can't necessary control the thing that's annoying me, I can control my own feelings about it and choose to let it go. If I choose to stay annoyed, I won't get a buzz.

6. I start moving to the music, and hope for the best!

Like I said, it doesn't happen every time. But if the caffeine peaks at the right time, and the songs sound extra good, and I'm flying around to the rhythm (bobbing my head seems to help...) it can happen any time, usually after 10 or 15 minutes. A frequent trigger is a tune where the music is building and building towards a chorus and I know it's coming and I know how much I love it and I feel this gathering energy getting more and more powerful...

And then WHAM.

Seriously, for me it's an incredible rush. It's a burst of energy and joy--but also a weird liquid feeling somewhere in the base of my skull... I can actually feel it spreading upwards, seeping into the rest of my brain. I smile almost involuntarily, (and sometimes giggle) and squint my eyes together, and I just feel so GOOD! I just keep pounding away and dancing a bit and try to gather up all my senses and enjoy it while it lasts. Alas, eventually it fades but it usually fades into a pretty darned good mood. And on a good day it will often come back a couple more times before I'm done.


Mellower Trippy Recipe
This second variation is also enjoyable, though not as intense. However, I find it easier to achieve and it's what makes me eager to go running even though I know I'm trashing what I have left of the cartilage in my knees. Heck, it's worth it.

1. Coffee beforehand. (Always)

2. Choose appropriate exercise: this time, running or hiking--something aerobic that can be performed outdoors.

3. Good music. Beat is important, but "mood" is also a crucial issue for this kind of high. The goal is a more trancey feeling, so music that's intricate and beautiful and puts me in an energetic but contemplative frame of mind works better than mindless pop. Unless it's unusually awesome mindless pop.

4. A beautiful outdoor trail.

5. Weather that's not hot and miserable. (However, I've had some running highs in cold and rainy weather... go figure).

6. Start running and hope for the best!

This kind of high sneaks up gradually and is more mellow. Colors seem extra crisp and bright, and things seem a bit dreamy and unreal--I often have to double-check that I'm not asleep and dreaming. There is a feeling of well-being and peace that's noticeably more intense than I get when I'm not exercising. This "high" usually takes longer to achieve, but lasts longer as well.

(***And yes, I do have opinions about illegal drugs! Here's one: fer goodness sake, how could it be that we baby boomers have made it all the way to middle age and should be in control now and yet people still get put in JAIL for smoking pot? WTF is up with that? Does anyone else think it might finally be time to legalize marijuana, tax it, and free up some much needed law enforcement resources for actual bad guys? Sure, some folks will abuse marijuana and cause themselves harm, much like other people abuse alcohol and tobacco and prescription pain killers and Twinkies to their own detriment. I'm just not sure the answer is to ban such potentially dangerous substances for everyone. It doesn't stop determined users anyway. Instead, how about using some portion of the new Pot Tax Revenue to fund treatment programs for those who need help? And just leave the medical and moderate users the hell alone since they're not bothering anyone?)

So do any of you like to get high, and if so, how do you get there?

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