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Regular exercise reduces stress and depression as well as improving overall health—and emotional and physical strength are powerful defenses against relapse. But if you have a full-time office job plus a long motor commute, you may despair of ever finding time for much exercise.
Start where you are. “The fact that you can do only a little is no excuse for doing nothing” (John le Carré, A Most Wanted Man).
Most exercise articles include disclaimers to check with your doctor before starting any workout routine. While this post will concentrate on little improvements that are safe for virtually anyone, it’s still true that sudden exertion can damage muscles, dehydrate your body or even put dangerous strain on your heart. And especially if you’ve been addicted to chemical substances, they may have caused unknown physical harm. If you didn’t get a full checkup while in rehab, have one now.
And however small you start with regular exercise:
- When stretching anything in a new way, begin with very easy, brief sessions. Muscle injury can’t always be counted on to warn you with immediate pain, and you can do major damage before realizing it.
- Slow down before you’re out of breath.
- If you feel lightheaded or have any pain spasms, immediately sit or lie down, drink at least one full cup of water—and if the symptoms continue or worsen, seek medical advice promptly.
- Never get out of sight of drinking water—carry a bottle, as well as sunscreen, when exercising outdoors.
Add Some Distance to Your Daily Walking
If all the walking you do is between house and car, car and workplace, elevator and office—you may be covering less than half the recommended daily distance. Here are ideas to get in a few more steps:
- Park at the far end of the lot, or switch to public transportation for your commute.
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator to the second floor—or walk up the escalator rather than letting it do all the work.
- Instead of texting everything, go to your colleagues’ offices to deliver short messages.
- Keep drinks and snacks down the hall instead of at your desk.
- Walk during your breaks. Go outside, if at all possible.
Switch Pace Regularly
The mention of breaks may be embarrassing if you’ve been in the habit of skipping them altogether. Everyone agrees in theory that the most effective producers regularly alternate types of activity, yet the drive to “make yourself useful” continues to predominate. Refusal to accept our lack of omnipotence generates the sense of futility behind many a chemical addiction (not to mention suicide).
Put this mantra on your desk, on your computer and in your calendar: “Regular active breaks are essential to staying effective.” To reinforce this, be diligent about not overloading your schedule—consider what you really have time to do effectively and what really is essential to your (and your employer’s) priorities. Don’t worry about what your supervisor will think—typically, the real tyrant driving you is the one in the mirror—but in case a higher-up does have questions, keep a plan in place to regularly assess your overall increased productivity.
Get Technological Help
Video clips for one-to-five-minute exercises are easy to find online or in downloadable apps. You may have to close your office door to avoid distracting others, but you can burn a surprising number of calories in just one high-activity mini-break per hour.
You can also wear a Fitbit or similar monitor to keep track of steps taken and estimated calories burned. Some models also alert you if you’ve been sedentary for too long.
With or without calorie counting, what you eat affects your ability and will to move physically. If you’re overstuffed, even light activity can be painful. If you consume too many caffeine-and-sugar-based items, your activity levels will suffer from yo-yoing energy levels.
Here are foods that will keep you in the mood to move regularly:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (the more variety the better)
- Lean meat
- Nuts, seeds and legumes
- Whole-grain breads
To further keep your energy levels on an even keel, eat some of the above at breakfast every morning, and have a light snack every four waking hours. Ultimately, you best stay fit (and sober) when you stay healthy in every