Runners chase flow — a state of consciousness often credited for seemingly inhuman athletic and artistic performances — but new research indicates they might catch it faster with some rope. According to a new report, 50 Shades of Grey-style BDSM provides similar psychological benefits to exercise, allowing a “Top” to enter flow and a “Bottom” to reap slightly different rewards.

Scientists flummoxed by the appeal of leather and chains have long theorized that BDSM (that’s bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism) draws people in by providing access to an altered psychological state. The results of the new study, published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, give credence to that idea: Among 14 BDSM practitioners, topping was associated with the characteristics of flow. And, yes, that is an altered state.

A University of Chicago psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” in the 1970s, using it to describe the lucid, completely absorptive state that people enter when they feel like they’re performing their best during certain types of activities. Csikszentmihalyi classified those activities as “autotelic” — that is, activities that a person does for the sake of the activity itself (and not because of external motivations), like running and playing baseball. It appears, now, that we can add BDSM to that list.

Not that tops reaped all the benefits of BDSM. Being on the receiving end of the whipping and cuffing didn’t get people flowing, but it did trigger “transient hypofrontality.” This concept has been suggested as a way to explain the positive psychological effects of exercise. Essentially, when the brain has to focus on exercise-related tasks, it shuts down activity in the prefrontal cortex, leading to what we know as the runner’s high.

Additional results suggest that BDSM activities were associated with reductions in psychological stress and negative affect, and increases in sexual arousal.

The researchers can’t explain why BDSM brings about this state of flow, but they did note that participants were less psychologically stressed, less negative, and hornier. Couples take note: Punishing your partner provides all the psychological benefits to running, with all of the pleasure and none of the pain — at least, not the unwanted kind.

Photos via Getty Images / David McNew