When we first get sober, exercise is usually the furthest thing from our mind. We just want to avoid picking up that next drink or drug. As addicts and alcoholics, we tend to overcomplicate things or see things as only black and white. Yes, really! After some time sober, we start to think, “Ugh…I need to start exercising!” In our heads, we procrastinate thinking we need a lot of money for a gym membership or equipment to get started. We picture a big box gym like 24-hour Fitness with rows and rows of cardio machines, big burly men pumping iron and machines that we can’t imagine how to use. We think we need to huff and puff, sweating profusely to make any different in our health or fitness level. We just don’t know where to start! So instead, we do nothing. And the exercise thing gets bigger and bigger in our head…
Good news! I’m going to make it easy for you. Take off your “overcomplication” hat and put on your “keep it simple” hat. Just like getting sober, use the progress not perfection principle.
Sometimes the best things in life are easy! And that’s why every good fitness program starts with walking. Walking is by far the most under-rated and under-utilized form of exercise. We all know how to walk, no instructions needed. You don’t sweat, you don’t huff and puff, so how can it be the best exercise? Did you know when you walk at your normal pace, it is just the right amount of exertion so that your body burns fat for fuel? (1). I think most of us have some excess fat we’d like to burn!
Walking reduces stress (2). When you reduce stress, life becomes easier, sobriety becomes easier. With reduced stress, you can concentrate on the important things in life. With lower stress levels, you are less likely to pick up that next drink or drug. If you have high stress levels, your body actually thinks something cataclysmic is around the corner that it will need energy to do. Imagine a saber toothed tiger chasing you. Your body in its wisdom, hoards calories in the form of fat for later use in this aforementioned chase. By reducing stress, your body can more easily part with that stored fat!
Walking also helps regulate your wake-sleep cycle. Walking outside in the sun lets your body know that it’s day time. It regulates your circadian rhythm so you’ll get better sleep at night (3). Better sleep equals less stress, which equals better mindset which equals sobriety being easier!
You want to know the best thing about walking? It can be absolutely free! No gym membership required! Of course, I live in sunny California so it might be a bit easier for me. I suggest to all my clients, friends and family to get outside and walk on every day the weather permits.
How much do you need to walk? I recommend 30 to 60 minutes per day every day. But if you can’t fit that in, ANY amount will work. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up. Set a timer on your computer to get up every hour and walk around your office for 5 minutes, park farther away, take the stairs, walk with your kids to the park or to school, walk to the store or get up every TV commercial and walk around. All those cheesy things we’ve heard over the years really work! Just move more.
Many people have fitness trackers like a FitBit to track how many steps they walk each day. These work great keeping people on track and accountable. It can also enable some healthy competition between friends. Another bonus, it works as a sleep tracker as well. I have one myself and love it. Just don’t let it take over your life! If you walk without your FitBit, it still counts as walking!
Get outside for a walk today. It doesn’t have to be far, just do what you can do. Each day try to go a little farther. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get the 30-60 minutes per day. Be good to yourself. Baby step your way to better health and a better quality of life in sobriety!