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To many people, with or without substance-abuse struggles, “healthy living” is the lesser of two evils. No one wants the inconvenience and danger of heart trouble; no one aspires to obesity that makes crossing the room exhausting; but when it comes to preventative wellness, we often visualize a life sentence of bland meals and monotonous exercise. Hence the quip, “Will this really help you live longer—or will it just feel longer?”
Admittedly, if the only choice is between an early death and a long but miserable life, it’s not unreasonable to choose the former. Thirty years of satisfaction are better than eighty years of mindless “getting by.” So do you simply want more years in your life—or do you want more life in your years?
“More life in your years” is not necessarily identical with “more pleasure in your days”; by the time you admitted your substance abuse was a problem, you already knew about the perils of living for instant gratification. The life that gets the most from every day of every year involves being purposeful, true to yourself, considerate of others—and, yes, as physically healthy as you can be. And if it’s hard to reconcile the idea of a fulfilling life with common images of “diet” and “exercise”—well, healthy eating is more than dieting, and healthy activity is more than exercise. Real healthy living makes everyday life more enjoyable.
1. Many fun activities are also good exercise. Of course, it won’t do your health much good if you surf the Internet, or watch television, all day (with or without a beer in hand). But is all that screen time so much fun, or is it just that nothing else to do comes easily to mind? Here are a few (inexpensive) alternatives that involve good fun and good exercise:
- Invite your kids (or a friend or neighbor) to play catch.
- Take a turn on the playground swings.
- Visit your local YMCA for a swim or a round of basketball or racquetball.
- Go for a walk or bike ride in the park.
You’ll notice that many of the above are outdoor activities, which brings us to the second reason staying healthy is fun:
2. Getting outdoors nurtures you spiritually. “Fitness centers” have their place, but not as your sole venue for day-to-day exercise. Their walls of televisions and their limited opportunities for human interaction get dull quickly. Outdoor exercise comes with an ever-changing background of interesting sights and with the option of bringing along a friend you can really converse with, which brings us to point 3:
3. Nurturing health is a step toward nurturing relationships, and vice versa. Certainly a person can have a serious illness and still be good company, but there are solid relationship advantages—not least, increased opportunities to meet new people—to being out and about. Good health means a greater variety of activities you and friends can enjoy together, and makes an open “give and take” relationship much easier.
When getting out of the habit of living for substance cravings, you need the “giving” practice anyway. Like outdoor time, and relationships themselves, it nurtures your spirit—and, by extension, your mind and body as per point 4:
4. What’s good for your body is good for your brain—and vice versa. Though no one can precisely define the “whys,” any doctor will confirm that people who engage regularly in both meditative and brain-challenging activities, and who practice counting their blessings and looking for opportunities to help others, have the best physical health overall. Plus, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about taking good care of yourself, or to feel much hope for change, while in the aftereffects of a drug stupor. Or even of a caffeine-sugar-fat overload, which makes this as good a place as any to note that:
5. Healthy eating tastes better. Notice I didn’t say “salads taste better than cake, period.” They can—especially if you’re talking packaged cakes grabbed from convenience store shelves—but there’s more to healthy eating than what you eat. Unhealthy eating tends to be rushed eating: grabbing whatever is within easy reach or offers a quick rush (pun intended); stressing one’s digestion by downing food at pie-eating-contest speed; putting meals off, or “multitasking” them with work or worry or mind-numbing chemicals. Practice any of the above regularly, and you lose not only nutritional benefits but the joy of really savoring whatever you do eat.
Plus, healthy food, like healthy activity, increases your overall energy and enthusiasm for life. And:
6. More energy means more fulfilling achievements. You’ve probably looked at someone who seems to always know and meet his goals—and wondered, “Why can’t I be like that?” Well, anyone can: all you need is willingness to pursue your unique purpose; self-respect and courage to reject whatever doesn’t fit; and faith to believe in your goals despite setbacks. Yes, it’s a taller order than you were hoping for. However, it’s also a description of the happiest and healthiest life; and keeping your energy up will help you achieve it.
7. Being healthy just feels good all over. True good health is inherently inseparable from a life full of fun. In addition to all the benefits above, health nurtures your sense of humor, improves your eye for beauty, helps you sleep better, and puts a natural smile on your face. I’m sure you can name additional benefits—go ahead, make your own list!
May you learn the full meaning of “healthy and happy”!
Katherine Swarts, a Houston-based freelance content writer, is also a member of Weight Watchers and of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She specializes in “coping and thriving” topics and has written for Menninger Clinic, Kemah Palms Recovery, and PsychCentral, among many others. Her website is www.HoustonFreelanceWriter.com.
Guiliano, Mireille. French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. Vintage, 2007.
Lakeview Health, “Getting Healthy in Recovery.” March 7, 2014.
Tharp, Lauren. “How to Keep Freelance Blogging When You’re Mentally Ill.” (Includes time-management and other coping tips useful for anyone transitioning into a “new normal.”) February 6, 2016.
Warren, Rick, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Mark Hyman. The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life. Zondervan, 2013.
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