Saturday, May 14, 2011

Runner's high. Huh?

Have I mentioned that I’m a little addictive? A junkie waiting to happen, that’s me.

These days my addictions tend to the healthy end of the spectrum. I mean, I smoked for decades before I managed to kick the habit. I carb-loaded for even more decades before I finally put that pink elephant in the ground. Now, and I hesitate to even think this, let alone say it publicly – I’m getting off on exercise. I have routines: I ride my bike to the pub, I walk to the library, and I go to the gym regularly. Not as in “three times a year, like clockwork,” but actually several times a week.

I need to do resistance work (and so do many of you, if you but knew it) to strengthen my bones. Walking is good, but I’m not convinced it’s enough. Also, it doesn’t do anything for my arms and as I know too well, wrists are a prime spot for fractures due to osteoporosis.

But back to my junkie tendencies. The idea of taking a few days or a couple of weeks away from the gym, or at least serious exercise, makes me pause.

Would I not take a holiday because it would mean a break from the dumbbells and weight machines at the gym?

I’m not that crazy. But I do think about missing the workouts.

It’s not enough that my vacations rarely entail just sitting. When I’m lucky enough to get an autumn break in Hawaii, the Saint and I regularly schlep along the Koloa Heritage Trail near Po’ipu or walk to pick up groceries in Hale’iwa. A trip to France incorporates daily hours-long strolls along the Left Bank of the Seine or through the Tuileries Gardens and up the Champs Elysées, not to mention pounding the marble pavements in the Musée D’Orsay or the gravel paths at the Musée Rodin.

But the obsessive gremlin in my head tells me it’s not enough. Or it might not be enough.

I can blow off the gremlin for a while. Shove it into a closet in the back room somewhere. I can hear it, and its constant scratching at the door is kind of irritating, but I can mostly ignore it. I override the noise by telling myself that I’m exercising, that the point of the hard, sweaty gym stuff is so I can do the real-world stuff like walks on the beach and hikes in the woods.

But the gremlin knows better. Once it’s scraped a hole in the door, it whispers, “You like the endorphins.”

And it’s right. Not that I get that famed runner’s high; I spend less time in the zone and a lot more hitting the wall. 

But there must be something in what the beast says.

Whether my brain is releasing endorphins, those natural chemicals that bind to opiate receptors to create a nice buzz, or whether I get off on the pleasure of becoming stronger and fitter…well, I can’t say for sure. Maybe both. Doesn’t really matter anyway, because the end result is that I exercise more, I feel better, and I can do more. I have a bigger, better life.

And with one sweaty session on the arc machine, I can burn off a Mars bar.

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