“Our body is our temple.”
This is a saying you’ve probably heard before, as had I many a time. But the real meaning of the phrase didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks until I began my recovery from drugs and alcohol. During the dark days of my disease, I didn’t care much about my body; abusing drugs and alcohol, I certainly did considerable damage to it. When I finally got clean, got my act together, and began to think about improving my overall health, I didn’t really know how.
Below are five essentials tips to live a healthy life distilled from my own road to recovery. These tips not only helped me heal my damaged body and mind in my early recovery, but they also keep giving me the physical and mental strength I need to stay alcohol and drug-free every day of my life. My hope is that they will serve you well, too.
1. Refuel: Eat better
The food you eat fuels you and your entire engine—not just body but mind and soul, too. Aside from the more obvious physical ramifications to our bodies, research has also proven the impact of different foods on mood and overall wellness time and again. Thankfully though, eating well isn’t rocket science and oddly enough, the computer science acronym GIGO [Garbage In Garbage Out] comes to mind as a simple rule of thumb.
Here’s the simple formula: Increase the good, cut out the bad, and avoid food triggers that trip you up personally.
Eat the rainbow! This means a diet consisting mostly of different colored fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that provide your body with the diverse nutrients it needs. Dark green and orange vegetables are said to be some of the healthiest—think spinach, kale, broccoli, and carrots.
Significantly reduce (or cut out altogether) the bad stuff: processed foods, saturated fat, alcohol (and drugs, of course), and sugar.
Find ways to avoid foods that lead you to binge eat. Usually things like chocolate bars, chips, cookies, and fast food. In my case, trigger foods were strongly linked to my alcohol consumption. So, as you can imagine, healthy was not exactly a word to describe my eating habits.
2. Refresh: Hydrate better
While factors like the climate we live in, our weight, and how much we exercise dictate how much water we need, most of us don’t drink nearly as much as the 2-3 liters (8-10 glasses) of water per day that is generally recommended.
Drinking more water removes wastes, regulates body temperature, detoxifies the body, and carries nutrients to where they are needed, influencing our energy levels and ensuring overall optimal bodily function.
Start your day hydrated after a night’s sleep with a tall glass of water and some fresh lemon juice squeezed into it. Some believe this will help flush out toxins and help you have daily bowel movements (which I would say is the sixth key to living a healthy life!), but even if this isn’t true, it’s still a great way to start your day.
If you drink coffee or soda, which dehydrate the body, you will need to drink even more water. Caffeinated drinks are diuretics, meaning they speed up the rate of urine production, and can lead to dehydration. Signs that you aren’t getting enough water include dark yellow urine, dry or chapped lips, and not urinating often.
3. Restore: Sleep better
Studies have shown that we are a sleep-deprived nation, with most of us not getting the recommended 7-8 hours per night that is essential to keeping us energized and mentally alert throughout the day.
As I was mostly passed out or just so drunk I felt I was sleeping during my addicted years, sleep was not something I cared about. Getting the optimum amount of sleep, however, is linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease and a longer lifespan. In addition, a regular routine, consistent sleeping hours (going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning—something that was unfathomable to me when I was consuming), as well as getting to bed an hour or two before midnight every night can work wonders for your body and mind.
Wondering how you can get to bed by 10 or 10:30 pm? Sometimes all it takes is shutting off the tv, computer, or cell phone and picking up a book!
4. Reinvigorate: Exercise better
Daily exercise is linked to a better and longer life, improved mental and physical health, reduced stress, lower rates of disease, boosts to any other ongoing addiction recovery treatments, and improved physical appearance.
The key, however, lies in choosing a sport or style of exercise that is the right fit for you; one you truly enjoy and want to do every day rather than a gym membership where you force yourself onto the treadmill until you give up even more miserable than ever before.
Your options are endless: From sweating it out to music you love or just processing your own thoughts while alone on a running or cycling trail to signing up for a local team or competitive sports (think local beach volleyball, slow pitch league, or joining a squash or tennis facility), if you’re more of a people person that likes being part of a team. Daily walks with a friend can be a good way to get out and get some exercise, while being social at the same time. And classes (think aerobics, yoga, Zumba, or wakeboarding) are a fun way to exercise, meet new people, and learn something new. Furthermore, the commitment involved (including the economic commitment of paying for a weekly or biweekly class) can help you stick to your exercise routine.
5. Relax: Stress better
Stress is a natural part of life that everyone experiences from time to time and it can even be a good thing (Eustress)! Everything from work or family obligations to traumatic events such as an accident, the death of a loved one, or even a natural disaster can trigger stress. As a physiological response to harmful or potentially dangerous circumstances, it can actually help us better cope with these in the short term. It can even be considered nature’s way of helping us survive life-threatening situations.
However, if stress levels stay elevated for longer periods of time (chronic stress), this takes a major toll on your health. Chronic stress is often a factor in drug and alcohol abuse and is linked to many health problems such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, ulcers, and acid reflux (heartburn), to name just a few. It also weakens the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to the flu, colds, and a whole host of common infections.
So how can you relieve chronic stress? All of the points above!
Furthermore, walking in nature or calming the mind with meditation can be especially effective. Sit in a quiet space, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. Start small—even 5-10 minutes of meditation a day is incredibly beneficial. Then, work your way up to longer periods of 15-30 minutes. Yoga is another fantastic way to relieve stress that combines the benefits of meditation and exercise. Listening to calming music, talking to a friend, or taking a long bath with essential oils (lavender is a great choice) are some other great ways to beat stress. The key here is to find ways to not only minimize stress but rather accept that stress is inevitable and discover ways to cope with stress better. Stress can even be good and with the right stress busters that work for you to channel the stress in constructive ways, it can become what drives you in a positive way.
The secret to a healthy happy life is simple
Everyone wants to live a healthy and happy life and my life was anything but healthy and happy before my recovery. For me, the starting point of my new life was getting off drugs and alcohol, which I did by focusing on repairing and rebuilding my whole self through healthy eating, drinking more water, sounder sleeping, getting daily exercise, and reducing the stress in my life. Nobody said it would be easy, but it is simple.
That our bodies truly are a unique physical shell, home to our spirits while we traverse this world and our irreplaceable vehicle through this crazy, complexly beautiful journey called life, was a truth I could no longer deny. Now, nine years later, I feel better than I ever have in my life. I hope these tips can help you to live healthier and much better.
Which essential tips for living a healthy and happy life would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!