I am not sure exactly when it happened but at some point, during my drinking days, I stopped caring about my physical health. I do not mean that in the sense that I allowed my body to completely get away from me, although I did gain a lot of weight a couple of times in my adult life. I mean it more in the way that I stopped physical activity. If you knew me at almost any point in my adult life you know that I was a pretty active person. I bicycle commuted and trained for bicycle racing for more than a decade. I ran, I did endurance events for non-profits, and I liked the outdoors and pretty much any outdoor activities. I am also vegetarian so for the most part, I generally eat pretty well too. Then, one day, I just stopped physical activity. I lost the drive to do anything physical, outdoors, or not. It no longer interested me and I lost all semblance of physical health. Because of my diet, I never really gained weight in an unmanageable way so you would have never known I was slowly becoming very unfit. But I was and alcohol was to blame.
I remember something I read in Annie Grace's book, "This Naked Mind" that stuck with me and has helped to keep me on my sober path. She said something to the effect that nobody drinks less over time. This basically means if you drink you will continue to drink more until you eventually have a problem. While this may seem too much of a generalization to some of you, I see a lot of truth in it. I believe the same thing can be true with our physical health. When we stop physical activity it is harder and harder to get our minds and bodies back to a place where we want to be fit, again. The more time that passes, the less we feel the desire to live a physically healthy lifestyle. And on and on the cycle goes.
Alcohol and the Lack of Physical Motivation
Let me be clear in saying that when I talk about fitness for the purposes of this post, I do not mean a gym body and spending hours every day working out kind of fitness. While that works for some people it is highly unrealistic for the majority of the population. Before I go into what I deem as a realistically fit life, let's talk first about how alcohol plays a massive role in our struggle to want to maintain a physically fit life. Of course, I cannot speak for everyone one because everyone is profoundly different in the way their body and minds responds to health and fitness, but I can speak to the slow declination of my physically active life and how it perpetuated my inactivity further until I was basically doing nothing to keep my mind and body healthy and fit.
As I said earlier, I have always been the type to keep physically active. I rode up to thirty miles a day on my bicycle for commuting purposes. When I was racing, I also trained at home on my rollers before I did the commute to work. I did many endurance events for non-profits. I was a pretty active guy. Interestingly, I was drinking and drinking too much during all this time too. Somehow, I was able to maintain my physically active life while living as a functional alcoholic. Until I couldn't keep it up any longer. It was only a matter of time before the alcohol, lifestyle, and age caught up with me and made it far more difficult to want to be active. The more I drank, the crappier I felt. The crappier I felt, the less my motivation I had for activity. The less motivation I had for activity, the easier it became to make excuses for not being active. This cycle continued at an exponential rate until I no longer resembled my former physically fit self.
I remember the day it hit me how much I had let it all go. Since I was still slender, I held a skewed view of my fitness level. I was talking with L one day and I made a comment that I was in good shape. She replied, "Are you, really?" She didn't mean anything mean by it, she was just asking the question because there was absolutely no evidence to support my view that I was in good shape. I don't remember how I responded, but I remember how I felt. I felt deflated. I felt that way because at that moment I realized how much my life had changed and I knew exactly why it had changed in the way that it had. I was drinking way too much and because of that, I had no desire to be physically fit or healthy. Drinking was more important to me that my mind and body. That affected me greatly. I did not make any immediate changes from that realization, but it stuck with me until I finally did, and thank God I did.
I don't think it is any surprise to anyone that alcohol negatively affects our minds and bodies to a grand scale. When we drink every day, our bodies are in a perpetual state of healing from the poison we are consistently injecting into them. That constant attempt to heal affects the way our bodies react to physical activity and makes the idea of being physically active almost painful. Our minds go through the same healing process and because of the constant dehydration, headaches, and hangovers, our minds are not able to think clearly. Rather than acting as the supercomputers, our minds are meant to be, our minds remain in a state of active survival and hold very little RAM for anything else. Between the physical and mental breakdown of our minds and bodies, we lose any desire to try and maintain a healthy level of activity. And it only gets worse until we do something about it.
Living an Alcohol-Free Active Life
Once I made the realization that I was slowly losing my active self, I couldn't wait to get back to a healthier lifestyle. Even though it still took me a while to get back to my former physically fit self, it was in the back of my mind and was part of my successful journey into sobriety and what I continue to call, easier sobriety. The day I quit drinking, I made a couple of goals to myself. One, as you know, was to write every day about my journey. I have done that and it has been a wonderful addition to my successfully sober life. Another was to read more. I am always reading a novel and a non-fiction self-help type of book. They both keep my mind active and engaged in learning which is always a healthy way to live. The other was to begin working out and make it part of my lifestyle again. I have done that and I cannot say enough about how living active plays a crucial role in our successful sobriety and lives in general.
One of the most obvious and quick benefits of being physically active is in how it affects our emotional state. It has been proven that depression is linked to a lack of physical activity. It has also been proven that alcohol is linked to depression. If both alcohol and inactivity lead to depression and we are actively engaged in both, we don't stand a chance at living a healthy life. The problem I had with maintaining physical activity while drinking was simply in my energy level. Even if I was able to squeeze in a workout one day, the next day would roll around and because of my hangover and tiredness, I could not coerce myself to do it again.
Once I gave up alcohol, one of the first things I noticed was an increase in my energy level. This change in energy level made it so much easier to think about living more active and that is not all. Simply by engaging in physical activity, my mind began to think more clearly. The clearer my mind was able to think, the more obvious it began to feel that the two were directly correlated. Once I established this correlation, I could not help but want to have more of them both in my life. I then began to establish a lifestyle where physical activity was part of it, again. Now, if I am not physically active in a day because I had too many things going on and I could not get around to it, I miss it. Not only do I miss it, I feel a need to ensure I do not miss it the next day and because of that, I rearrange my schedule to ensure I get in a workout the following day. It is self-perpetuating accountability and it is life-changing. I have never felt better physically or mentally than I do since quitting drinking and using nicotine.
How much activity do I need?
Here is the beauty of it all. While I may engage in workouts to get some of my physical activity in, working out is not the only way to achieve this self-perpetuating accountability. As I said earlier, we are all different and all of our minds and bodies react differently to mental and physical activity. If you are not the type to want to engage in organized workouts, that is fine, and on some level may even be healthier. If you can find ways to get in your physical activity naturally, you are even further ahead of the game than the rest of us. I read a study about a small village that had abnormally long longevity of life for the inhabitants. When the researchers looked into why everyone in the community lived longer, one of the reasons was what they called natural exercise. Natural exercise is things like walking, physical work, gardening, building, and anything else where exercise can be obtained by doing natural day-to-day activities. They said that this is the best form of exercise.
I didn't like it at first, but the idea of getting your daily steps in is one of the easiest and sustainable ways to achieve a form of the physical activity I am talking about here. Most phones track it for you, but you can also purchase fitbits and apple watches that do this for you and they track a lot of other things too. The idea is simple. Every day, try and reach 10,000 steps. It doesn't sound like that much, but you'll soon learn that most of us cannot do this through our normal day-to-day activity. This means that at some point in our day we have to make a conscious decision to get in more steps and tada: instant self-perpetuating accountability. Give it a try. It really does work.
More than likely, once you begin hitting your 10,000 steps a day goal, you will naturally begin finding ways to get in exercise in other ways too. An active and healthy lifestyle is addicting, and this time it is in a good way. There is nothing wrong with needing to get in a fix of exercise. There is nothing wrong with jonesing for an elevated heart rate. There is nothing wrong with seeking out and finding other like-minded people who engage in the same healthy living addiction and changing the age-old saying, "Misery loves company" to "Healthy living builds connection."
Did you get your 10,000 steps in today?