Chances are that you are already doing something in terms of your recovery effort.
Maybe you went to treatment, and were introduced to a 12 step program, and so you have been attending meetings.
Or perhaps you have been seeing a counselor who is helping to guide you through the early recovery process.
Whatever the case may be, it would benefit you greatly to start thinking about the holistic approach to recovery, and how you might start expanding your effort to include it.
Here we will explore how you might do this, and offer a few specific suggestions that lead you to a healthier life in recovery.
A bold suggestion: start by adding in regular exercise
Of course you will want to consult with your doctor first, but this is probably the single most important step toward the holistic approach that so many people overlook.
It is easy to dismiss the power of exercise as not being so important. We are told constantly that recovery is based on a spiritual experience, so we discount the idea that physical exercise may be important or helpful at all.
It is also easy to dismiss the idea of exercise by rationalizing that we already do it (sort of). In my opinion, people who do this just don’t “get it.” They are making an excuse because every once in a while they actually do exercise a small amount, but it is not the significant effort that would actually benefit them in recovery.
No, to get the full benefit, you need to do vigorous exercise. There is a difference between taking a casual walk through the mall and actually going outdoors for the sole purpose of covering a few miles deliberately.
People who “get it” are experiencing massive benefits from regular, vigorous exercise, and part of the problem is that they could never put all of these benefits into words. It is tough to convince someone of these multiple benefits, because they are difficult to define and they overlap so many areas of your life. For example, if you engage in regular vigorous exercise, chances are that you:
* Sleep better at night than people who do not exercise.
* Have more emotional stability due to the meditative quality of exercise.
* Eat healthier because you notice the difference your fuel source makes in how your exercise feels.
* Have more energy to do fun things in your life while not exercising.
* Have more discipline to be able to handle challenges in career, relationships, and so on–because of the discipline that you gain from regular exercise.
And so on. The benefit list is actually much more extensive than this, and these are just a few samples of the ways in which exercise might benefit your recovery. The real benefit list is much, much longer, and therefore it is difficult to convince others of just how important it is for your recovery.
Just do it
After getting clearance from your doctor to start walking for up to an hour a day, start doing it.
Start out slow, of course, like any new venture in your life. Don’t walk a hard and fast hour every day, right off the bat. But, do make this your eventual goal, at least for this experiment.
I would also try to make a commitment to yourself of at least one year. Commit to the idea that you will walk vigorously for at least one hour each day for a full year. The reason for the one year commitment is simple: not all of the benefits manifest in the first few months. Rather, what will happen is that after you have done this vigorous exercise every day for a long time, your body will start to change quite a bit. You will come to thrive on your daily walk. You will get to where you do not feel right unless you do it.
This is a wonderful place to be at with your physical health, and you do not enjoy all of the benefits of exercise until you “get there.” In the early days it might be difficult to put in your hour every day, and you may even argue that it makes you feel worse to exercise. But if you stick with it for the long haul, eventually your daily walk will become invigorating for you.
The exercise must be vigorous
Be sure to check with your doctor first, and explain that you are going to be working your way up to a brisk walk, one that gets you breathing hard by the end of it. This is especially important to the long term benefits of this type of exercise. If you just take a casual stroll each day, you are missing out on most of the real benefit of exercise. In fact, you are not exercising if you just stroll around and don’t end up working up a sweat.
You have walk deliberately, purposefully, and to the point of labored breathing. You should be able to carry on a conversation while walking, but just barely. If its too easy for you, pick up the pace and walk longer distances. The ideal is to work your way up to a full hour each day at a very brisk pace, one that gets you breathing somewhat hard within the first ten minutes. Obviously you do not want to get so winded that you collapse, but you want to push yourself a bit. This is the whole point of “vigorous” exercise and this is where 90 percent of the benefit will come from.
Don’t just stroll around and call it good. Push yourself to actually work up a sweat. Shoot for an hour per day of vigorous exercise.
The impact of this change on your life and your recovery
If you can start your holistic approach by adding in an hour of vigorous exercise every day, it will have a profound change on your life.
First of all are the obvious health benefits. Making this exercise into a lifetime habit versus never doing it at all could have a significant impact on both your longevity and quality of your life. The potential difference could be measured in decades rather than just years in some cases.
But the real benefits go much deeper than this. Improving your physical health is an obvious benefit of regular exercise, but it is certainly not the only reason that we would encourage exercise in recovery.
The impact goes much deeper than that:
* You start to exercise every single day for an hour. You push yourself just enough each day to get a real workout, and actually work up a sweat. At first it is quite hard for you and it feels like a real chore. You do it anyway after your doctor assures you that you are healthy enough to exercise.
* You continue to push yourself to keep doing your daily walk and it slowly becomes a routine. It does not necessarily get any easier for you but at least it starts to feel normal.
* As time goes on you start to notice some very subtle changes. You seem to be sleeping better–you fall asleep faster and stay asleep more soundly through each night, getting up less frequently. Even though you feel drained after a vigorous walk, you feel energized the next morning, because you slept so soundly through the night.
* You notice an increase in discipline based on your new exercise schedule. For example, you vow to start a daily journal based on a suggestion that you received in recovery. In the past, you may have found it difficult to make such a commitment, but it comes more easily for you now. This increase in discipline is a direct result of your new exercise routine. You flexed your discipline muscle in building up your fitness, and now you can more easily apply that discipline in other areas of your life. THIS IS HUGE.
* As more time passes you notice that you don’t feel right when you miss your daily walk. It becomes more important to you now that it is an established habit. The benefits are subtle but they are numerous, and you find it difficult to explain the importance of this to others.
* As you realize the full benefits of daily exercise, you begin to wonder more about the holistic approach to recovery, and how other positive changes may affect your overall recovery effort. You become inspired to seek out other positive areas of change in your recovery, because of your positive experience that you had with daily exercise.
A natural starting point
You don’t have to start with physical exercise as you explore the holistic approach, but I believe it is the more natural starting point. The discipline that you gain from establishing this new challenging exercise routine will serve you well as you tackle other areas of potential change in your life.
Make one positive change at a time, and master it. Make daily exercise into a regular habit, and it will serve you well in your recovery. Then, move on to find the next positive change.