Getting high

June 6, 2016

getting-highAt a time when so many people are popping pills to increase their serotonin levels, I feel lucky. I’m a pretty happy person all the time which means I’ve got more than enough natural serotonin coursing through my body.  It should be illegal to have this much natural energy at this age.

After every particularly difficult exercise, my trainer will check in: “How do you feel?” and my answer is always the same: “I feel great!” or “I feel fine!”  And believe me, I give thanks for the gifts of my good health and great mood in my morning prayers every single day.

But my relationship with exercise has been…complicated.

Getting-high.I’ve said before that I come from a family of athletically oriented people. Except for my mother, who was a confirmed couch potato, everyone else worked out, skied, ran–you name it.  I’ve always joked that I’m the family intellectual. Of course, now I have a nephew who is both athletic and more intellectually gifted than any of us, so perhaps i’ve lost my title.  Nonetheless, I’ve always seen exercise as a necessary evil, done grudgingly or not at all.

My father began running in the 1960s, well before the running boom of the 1970s, and wanted his kids to run, too. I, of course wanted nothing to do with it. Still, he lived until he was almost 89, despite advanced dementia, and we’re sure his long life was a result of his excellent cardio fitness. Yes, both a blessing and a curse: who would want to live with dementia? My couch potato mom kept all her marbles to the end, but paid the price for sitting on the sofa nibbling bon-bons.

You’d think that my parents’ experiences would have embedded themselves more deeply into the fabric of my life, but really, they didn’t. Denial is a pretty powerful thing.

getting-highCardio, though, is an inevitable necessity, I’ve come to accept. So every day I get on a treadmill or elliptical with headphones and Sirius oldies music and go at it.  Not too long ago, the music and a little voice in my head pushed me to pick up the pace. But if I went over 3.4 mph on the treadmill, I wanted to run. I HAD to run. So that’s what I did.

Unfortunately, the body ages with time and now, on the cusp of 65, I have this little section of my left lower back that simply does not like impact of any kind. It’s the place I get injured when I don’t set appropriate physical limits for myself. Sure enough, I pounded it a bit too much one day and my back protested–so much that I had to reduce my speed and exertion for a while. Because an aging body simply does not bounce back like it once did. But that music! It kept pushing me. And that voice in my head? It kept saying come on, run a little, do it!

So I made a deal with my aging body. I’d do intervals, walking at 3.4 mph for five minutes, then pushing the speed up and jogging for one or two minutes. I’d be really careful and I’d stop if I felt that warning signal on the left side of my back.

That little bit of running? It got me high. I mean HIGH! Better than any drug.  The endorphin rush on top of my naturally high serotonin levels? A better feeling than the rush of cocaine. And I do remember what THAT felt like.

Pretty soon, I found myself adding minutes to the running part of my regimen. As I added minutes, I got higher. And didn’t want to stop. Hot Trainer had to fetch me from the cardio machines for our strength training sessions.

“Are you RUNNING?” he asked me the first time.

I’m running.

Carefully.  Touching base with my left lower back (and knees) as I go, and sticking to intervals, although the running parts are getting longer and longer.  And I’m a little addicted to the high.  Fortunately, my excellent bone density allows me to take this risk and I’m glad it does.

Way fun, but I thought it might be MORE fun to mix it up a little and do something else, too. You can see where this is going, right?

At my other gym, the one I go to when I don’t see Hot Trainer, I noticed a sign announcing a new cardio class:

getting-highBollywood movies are a guilty favorite, so I thought I’d give it a try one morning.  After all, my fitness level had significantly improved, right?


To begin with, on a good day I can walk and chew gum at the same time. But when it comes to complex choreography in which the hands go one way and the feet the other? Not so much. I almost got myself tangled into a knot and almost fell over in another move.

But worse than that, it’s high impact cardio, which is a younger woman’s game.  Some 30 minutes into it I could feel my back beginning to complain and at 40 minutes, I stopped, fearing further pain. At home, my back was really uncomfortable, so I took three ibuprofens and berated myself for not setting appropriate limits. Would I have to give up running until my back felt better? Not do cardio at all? Worse, would I have to return to physical therapy? How could I be so dumb?

I stayed home from the gym for two days. The third day I woke feeling fine and hit the treadmill, running again and feeling that rush.  The next day I did feel a little strain but nothing that would keep me down.

So. I might not look my age, but my body tells me that yes, I am going to be 65 this summer, and some adjustments are necessary, mostly psychological, but also, physical. When something hurts, it means I shouldn’t do it or I should modify it for my age and fitness level. Increased exertion should be slow and steady and I need to touch base with my body every step of the way, looking for those little warning signals and paying attention to them.

Because even though I’m naturally high? I like getting even higher. I like getting high off an endorphin rush.

And I don’t want to stop.

Have you had an experience with exercise you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it.  Oh, and I’m dedicating this post to Carla, a former fitness blogger who was pretty much the only other woman in the gym at o’dark hundred at my recent Vegas conference.  Lucky me, I got to meet her, too!



52 comments on “Getting high
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    I love to hear you “getting high” from running at 65! It made me laugh, but in a good way.I walk 4 miles one day a week, then 31/2, then 2 and am exhausted by weeks end. But my head is free and clear and ready to write( I do NOT talk on the phone or listen to any music other than birdsong) and I feel so damn peaceful and good, so I can relate to you, Carol. I do one bar method classes a week, and feel accomplished ( I used to do four, but recent back surgery says those days are over.) I would give anything to see you in a Bollywood class. You have my total respect!!

  2. Carla says:

    Oh how I adore this. No surprise 🙂 I have longed for that runners high my entire life – – and it was only after I turned… 44 or so I realized that I got a walker’s high.
    No runner this woman 🙂 but walk and talk and laugh? That’s my high.


  3. Jennifer says:

    Very impressed with your commitment to getting “high.”

  4. I gotta say, the title caught my attention! I’ve never really been into running, though I love hiking. That’s awesome you’ve been diligently active for so long. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Michelle says:

    Yes… There is no better high then what one experiences after a great workout. Age plays a big factor indeed as to how far we push ourselves. Not worth injury that sets us back for weeks. My high comes from a long, brisk walk with hills and a good sweat!

  6. beth b says:

    Oh your post is so inspiring. I’ve been a walker for years, but decided I need to boost my workout. So, I started incorporating running into my walk and I am amazed at how energized I am. I’ll never be a marathoner (I’m 58 next month) but I’m looking forward to running!!

  7. Barbara says:

    Being a writer and artist means most of my ‘work’ is from a sitting position. I do stand and type at least an hour a day and I’m walking between 2 and 4 miles a few times a week. In my 30’s I taught dance aerobics and loved it. I’ve tried Zumba but, it’s a little too much for me and I don’t want to be the old lady that croaks on the dance floor. 😉
    I admire your tenacity, Carol.

  8. I feel that way about swimming. Three miles a week! It soothes my sore back, gets my heart a pumping and calms my anxiety.
    And yoga – I love my weekly yoga class.
    I am 60 and plan to live to be 105 so I need to keep it all together.

  9. With my working out is mind over matter. Once I’m doing it I love it but when I’m thinking of doing it I don’t want to. I love dancing. Zumba was one of the best workouts I’ve ever had.

  10. Jenny says:

    I like exercise and which I had time to exercise more. I get plenty of activity, chasing after 3 kids. But just not a lot of dedicated alone exercise time.

  11. Ellen Dolgen says:

    Exercise is so helpful to my feeling of calm – the days that I do not walk or ride my bike – I feel the difference. They say exercise is one of the most important ingredients to good health.

  12. I am a confirmed couch potato just like your mother, I would give anything to be able to feel that way about running.

  13. Lori says:

    Good for you! I hate running. Seriously, when I was first married I tried running wih my husband and after running to the second block I threw up. And I was only 23! I get my cardio from walking and dancing. I also love Pilates- it puts me in a zen like state.

  14. T.O. Weller says:

    Carol, you are so lucky! No matter how much I’ve tried, I just don’t get high from doing cardio. Oh that I could … then I’d actually want to do it!
    As a writer, online teacher and web services person, I’m really good at sitting … which I haven’t been able to do this week. As grumpy as that has made me, I’ve learned some things that boil down to this: I have to get moving.
    You inspire me. Perhaps I need to keep trying for that high?

  15. Candy says:

    Tons of walking going on, not a runner.

  16. Cori says:

    Good for you! I like the idea of running, but haven’t forced myself to just start slowly and work my way up.

  17. I love dancing, I definitely feel that natural high when performing (I do musical theater). And I’m a runner as well. Though some days I don’t hit the “high” at all and it’s just something I have to get done, others I know exactly what that feels like.

  18. I’m trying to find a used treadmill for the house. Since I don’t drive it’s not possible to get to the gym but I still need the exercise just isn’t enough. They are hard to come by!

  19. Andrea says:

    God bless you for being able to get a high from exercise – that’s what I’m working on 🙂

  20. Diane says:

    For years I was a runner. Nothing feels as good as that did. Alas, my knees simply can’t take it any more. I tried intervals for a while, but things just got worse and worse. Now, I bike. I do love it. I tell myself I love it as much as I did running. But we both know I’m lying to myself! 🙁

  21. Bren Pace says:

    Power to ya, Carol! When I saw the title, I instantly thought puff puff pass gf! LOL Keep rockin’ it!

  22. Alana says:

    I never got a runners high doing Zumba – perhaps it wasn’t strenuous enough (I did water Zumba). We never did Bollywood moves, but we did exercise to some Bollywood type music, and it was so much fun! Right now all I do is walk and do balance exercises. But I want and need more energy (I’m 63). I will be looking for something to add to my walking/balance exercise workout.

  23. Toni McCloe says:

    Boy, you really are upbeat and positive. I love it. As for me I like walking for exercise – I started when I was 60 and before long I could walk up to ten miles a day. Now, at 74, I’ve gotten lazier and busier – or so I tell myself.

  24. sue says:

    You are talking my language Carol! I love the HIGH after my PT sessions or after a run and I came to running at 50. I love your attitude and positivity and agree we have to start to listen to our bodies. My problem is that I don’t feel my age in my mind and so sometimes I maybe push too hard but I’d rather be fit and active and putting up with the odd ache or pain than sitting at home just waiting to die! Great inspirational piece thank you.

  25. The post really hit home, Carol. I feel great after Crossfit, but just today, I had to stop in the middle of the WOD while the “youngsters’ kept going because my lower back just couldn’t take it. I had the stamina to finish, but this aging body has limits. My pride was a little hurt, but I will live to fight another day. And I’ll be able to go back tomorrow, because I heeded my body’s warning today.

  26. Janie Emaus says:

    After reading this, I think it’s time to head for the gym! BTW, I loved spending time with you in Vegas.

  27. While I am not a couch potato, not completely :), exercise is not my thing. Other activities make me high, including writing and conversing with people. Good on you with your routine! 🙂

  28. You’re getting high from short intervals? Amazing! Do you live at altitude? I love aerobics, yoga and stretching, but despise running. I do the elliptical three days a week however.

    • Sea level. Any kind of super-intense cardio is going to be likely to give you endorphin rush. My husband does the elliptical at a very high level for 30 minutes every single day, and gets them, too.

  29. Haralee says:

    I got into trouble with the music and overdoing it so much in my exercise class that my old lady sciatic acted up and sidelined me for months! 🙁

  30. Amanda says:

    How fun! I miss the runner’s high. I’m nursing back an injury and the only thing that keeps me motivated to be consistent is that one day I can run again!

  31. Mardene Carr says:

    Always good to see persons who are taking care of their health. Way to go! Some persons think that after 30 they should just wither up and die…so good for u

  32. Jamie says:

    This just may be the inspiration I needed today. I have fibromyalgia and spend so much time using my pain as an excuse even though I know that exercise really does help when I do it regularly. I am a couch potato, and even though I’m petite, I really am not in shape. I’ve been telling myself that I need to start exercising again and building my strength back up – and I think I’m going to starting first thing tomorrow morning. Thank you!

  33. Carolann says:

    Kudos to you Carol! You are such an inspiration! I used to walk a lot and for hours. That was kinda cool. I’ve got to get back into it again. Your post has really pushed my ass out the door!

  34. Leanne says:

    I’m so jealous! I’d love to be a runner but I have a dodgy hip (how old do I sound?) and I don’t think I’d get high – just sweaty! But you’re right about needing to be more conscious of exercise and not slacking off.

  35. The only exercise I truly love is playing tennis, which I do 3 or 4 mornings a week. I HATE the gym and, although I do like Jazzercise and Zumba, I can happily live without them 🙂

  36. Leslie says:

    I love love love running. It’s not the same on a treadmill as it is on the asphalt for me. I love the scenery and the fresh air. I also like Zumba & Piyo too.ugh, cardio gets me sometimes though, just got to push through it.

  37. estelle says:

    Wow. I have run on the treadmill but never got that runner’s high, like you have. Now, I just do a high incline and stay around 3.2, 3.3 and then go lower and higher again. But nice to get that high feeling.

  38. You’re so inspiring, Carol. Walking is all I do and that too not regularly!

  39. Elizabeth O. says:

    A lot of people think exercising is such a chore, but it’s actually very rewarding! I love that you’re able to do a few exercises now. That’s really amazing! And kudos for being positive about it!

  40. I so admire your tenacity and commitment to exercise. I just can’t seem to find my groove and stick with it…I walk/run, but am always falling off the wagon and have to force myself to get back to it. My latest diversion has been our move (although the physical act of moving was exercise in and of itself). I’m not the most coordinated person either–my most humiliating class was belly dancing (you want me to move my shoulders and hips separately AND click some finger cymbals???). Great post, Carol!

  41. That fitness high is totally real and most days I love for it! I admire your ability to listen to your body and find the limits.

  42. Frances D says:

    With me it’s the lower right side of the back. I love Bollywood films and music too. Are you a fan of the three Khans: Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir?

  43. Nicole Escat says:

    I am not into physical activities as my work requires me to be in front of the computer almost all the time! I want to be involved in physical activities too!

  44. Brianna says:

    I used to run half marathons. I need to get back into it. Starting is the hardest part of running.

  45. Liz Mays says:

    I always feel great after I exercise, but I pretty much hate it during the exercise. My daughter on the other hand, LOVES exercising. It’s definitely something that makes her happy.

  46. Lisa Rios says:

    Such an inspiring post & it made my day as I loved reading every part of it. To me spending time with my naughty kids has been the best thing to keep myself in high though I don’t get a dedicated time for regular workouts.!

  47. K. Lee Banks says:

    Hurray for you, getting on track with exercise! I’m working on this myself and doing well with it this month so far. I have a stepper that takes up less space than my treadmill (which has moved to the sunporch, awaiting some de-cluttering and reorganization out there so I could use it while the dogs are on their run out in the yard). I also have exercise bands and weights, and an ab circle.

    I have started using the Pomodoro method to work for 25 minutes, then break for 5 minutes, during which I do some form of exercise. Every third break is 15 minutes, so that’s when I take the dogs out and do some more exercises. It’s working for me, because it helps me to move more frequently throughout the day instead of sitting for too many hours.

  48. James says:

    This is so inspiring! I’m only 38 but already with a very bad back due to feeling like I was The HULK when lifting weights in my 20s. It was very bad judgement on my part and now I’m paying the consequences. My lower back pain used to go away whenever I religiously hit the gym but lately it’s just been really bad. I’m going to try doing intervals instead of just running at full speed head on. Thanks for sharing this!

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