Your heart races as you walk up to meet your exercise pal. Your breathing speeds up as you say hello and talk about the day. Your adrenaline and other "feel-good" hormones are now surging. Your body is stimulated by just the preparation to exercise and increases over the time of the workout. But the exercise euphoria you feel may go beyond the workout.
Let's face it: When you exercise with a partner, you bond over gut-wrenching workouts and post-exercise snacks as well as the life stories you confide in each other. You may not even realize the positive emotional connections your brain is making over time.
The positive emotional arousal such as the feeling of "love" is both a cognitive and physical experience. Once your body is physically stimulated, your brain searches for an explanation or a source of the stimulation. Romantic attraction can be increased by physical arousal from activities such as lifting weights, running, or any other sport. Even physical exercise perceived as unpleasant or challenging can stimulate this mind-body hunt for the reason you are aroused.
The physiological effects of exercise such as increased heart rate, increased breathing, release of hormones, and increased mood are the same as those experienced by people in love. Unfortunately, your brain may incorrectly identify the first thing it sees – your workout buddy – as the reason you're excited and make you think you're in love with him!
If you're wondering if you're really in love or if it is misattribution of arousal, you can challenge the connection your mind makes between the physical and emotional excitement.
Meet up at the local bookstore and discuss each other's favorite book (not a book on exercise!) and see if there is something more than just exercise that you two share. Share an entree at a new restaurant and see if you and he communicate well and enjoy the quiet moments when weight machines aren't around and music isn't pumping in the background.
Spending time with your workout buddy when you aren't exercising can clue you in to whether or not your connection goes beyond the sweat. You may find he is your perfect mate or you may realize that you two are really just meant to be workout pals.
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