The shopping is done. The holiday parties are over. You’re back from vacation. You look in the mirror. You step on the scale. You are not happy. You tell yourself, “This year, I’m going to get in shape. I’m going to exercise more.” Then you remember that you had this conversation with yourself last year. You started out strong, but soon, you lost your resolve. You want this year to be different. And it can be. You have the power.
In fact, because you are in recovery, you have an advantage. You already know that you can achieve a challenging goal, and get there one day at a time. You are already good at asking for help when you need it, and accepting support. You are already good at following a program to get what you want in life. These are the same skills you need to get in shape and stay in shape.
Here are five tips for harnessing that power to achieve your fitness goals.
Set Small Achievable Goals: Think about how you achieved long term sobriety. It was one day at a time. The same applies to getting fit. Try making just one change the first week. For example, go out for a 15-minute walk, just once the entire week. Anyone can find 15 minutes over the course of 7 days. The next week, find time for two 15-minute walks. The third week, try bumping it up to three short walks. I bet you’re thinking, “Now she’s going to tell me to walk 4 times, then 5 times, then 6 times each week, and finally every day.” Nope. Once you get up to three 15-minute walks each week, keep doing that for another month or two. If you’re still walking/jogging regularly after a few months, (or doing whatever form of exercise you chose), congratulate yourself. You will have lasted longer than most people. You succeeded because you chose the slow and steady approach. You set yourself an achievable and reasonable goal. You set yourself up for success. That’s why you still have your resolve. If after a few months, you feel like going further, faster, or more often, gradually add that into your routine. Lots of baby steps really do add up.
Exercise Mindfully: As much as I’d love to tell you that you’ll always be excited to get out there and walk, I will tell you the truth instead. There will be days when you start out not wanting to be there. You may be exhausted, stressed, anxious, or depressed. Your body may feel like it just doesn’t want to move. You will come up with lots of excuses as to why you aren’t going to exercise. Get out there anyway. It’s only 15 minutes! Then, pay attention to the “during” and “after”. Pay attention to how you feel and what’s going through your head as you start moving. You will notice your body warming up and your muscles loosening. Stress, depression, and anxiety will begin to melt away. You will gain mental clarity. You will recharge emotionally, mentally, and physically. When you finish, notice that you are feeling better than before you started.
Practice Gratitude: According to Harvard Health, gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Think of each exercise as a gratitude session. Remind yourself that you are exercising regularly because you can. Your sobriety makes this possible. Your body makes this possible. Your mind makes this possible. The simple act of walking is a reminder of how much you have to be grateful for.
Find an Accountability Partner: You can think of your accountablity as your "fitness sponsor." Sometimes we can find the strength to keep going by looking inside; other times we need to look outside. This individual can be anyone who is willing to support you in your journey to better health. Maybe it’s your 12-step sponsor. It could be a friend, family member, or a walking group. They can support you by getting out there with you, encouraging you to go, celebrating your successes, or any combination of the above. Figure out what works best for you, and then harness the power of your support system. Let them hold you accountable.
Celebrate Your Successes: Every time you get out there and walk (or do other exercise) for 15 minutes or more, you are succeeding at moving toward your longer-term goal of improved health. Mark those successes. You may wish to use an app, keep a journal, check off exercise days on your calendar, or do something else. You can count total minutes walked, total days walked, or total distance. For example, most people going at a moderate to brisk pace can finish a mile in 15-20 minutes. If you walked for 15-20 minutes a day, 3 times a week, in just two months, you will have walked the equivalent of a Marathon (26.2 miles). Pretty impressive!
Want to be one of those few who proudly sticks to their fitess goals? You can do it! You have the tools to stay sober. Those same tools can help you improve your physical health through exercise. Harness your inner strength and your support system, and incorporate these 5 practices to support your new healthy lifestyle:
1. Set small achievable goals
2. Exercise mindfully
3. Practice gratitude
4. Find an accountability partner
5. Celebrate your successes
You can do this!