So while reading the NY Times Sunday Magazine article about the science of female desire last week, I saw a brief link to orgasm-like feelings after exercise (sadly, since I no longer have access to Wesleyan's medical journal descriptions, I can't read it--I got into reading medical journal articles when I took this one epidemiology class).
I WISHIWISHWISH I could read about this! People talk about running "highs" or whatever, and that's true, but calling something a "high" is a pretty neutral term. YES, it can refer to drug use, but NO, it doesn't conjure up a full-body orgasm or anything. Looking at the abstract more closely, it appears that exercising made people more responsive to sexual imagery, but it wasn't due to the hormonal changes they thought.
As a swimmer, and especially a distance swimmer, I've had times where I inexplicably felt really, really, really good while exercising. It's a giddiness, a euphoria. It matches, but is qualitatively different, to times where I've felt euphoric from caffeine, alcohol, getting really good results on my AP tests in the mail, and, although it's been awhile, sex. I imagine this is under-researched because it's a personal, not shared emotion. While your teammate is in agony it's a bit alienating to slur out "I feel soooo good right now! I'm totally high off this ridiculously hard set!"
While I've had warm fuzzy feelings during exercise and after---usually it takes pretty strenuous exercise to induce it--I have particularly strong memories from my senior year water polo season. Maybe because at that point I'd sampled the various sources of euphoria, I had a different sense of contextualization that made full-body pleasure seem like a simile to orgasm. Anyway, we would have these two-hour, strenuous practices, then I would have to dash over with wet hair (15 minute walk, which I know now from living in New York is 3/4 of a mile) to catch one of the bajillion screenings I had for my Senior Film Seminar. So while changing/walking over/before starting the movie, there were a few times where I felt REALLY, REALLY good. Just like dreamy, stupid smiley, and good allll over. It radiated from me and kind of draped over me and either made the whole world look like Willy Wonka or made me super ebullient and wanting to share my good mood with someone. Kind of like a certain variety of orgasm, but so so much longer lasting. And also kind of like the Little Match Girl before she freezes to death in the snow.
So, while people don't really talk about random acts of euphoria (I contemplated telling my classmates that I felt orgasmic, but reconsidered) unless you're, of course, having sex, it's interesting to see that something so wholesome, like exercise, can produce such a profound reaction in the body. I LOVE it. And what better place to talk about it than in the frankness of the blogosphere?
I felt something like that today, walking home after I interviewed my first movie director over the phone. I had been so nervous, and then it went really well, and I just felt giddy and happy and relieved and it all felt so good.
I think this might mean I'm becoming happier in general.
And do you know what--I've been feeling a lot happier lately, and I've also been doing much more strenuous exercise. Although I've been walking to and from work for five months now (that's 2 miles a day, provided it's not raining really hard or I don't take the subway to a screening after work), and doing yoga a couple times a week, it's only now that I've started running (20+ minutes on a treadmill; funny...that was how long the test subjects were on there...) that my body has really been activated and made use of those pleasure centers (in order to help with the pain of getting back in shape?).
I really like the idea of the body as a machine. I think it's empowering, healthy, etc.. Noticing such a big difference in mood, I definitely think I will work to keep this gym habit going.