I was born in 1967. I am currently 47 years old. At least that’s what my birth certificate claims.
Clearly I can turn anything into an addiction or an unhealthy pattern of behavior. Ask my family who, after I left a second stint at rehab, asked if my need to ‘go all out’ when biking was yet another form of taking a healthy behavior and intensifying it to a point of compulsion. My tendency toward perfectionism adds to the mix and creates a behavioral formula often leaving me on an exercise endorphin rush one day and a flat-out exhaustion the next. During long periods of sobriety, I have always sought out the comfort of exercise, tapping into a primal need to expend energy, to sweat, to feel my heart pumping to levels of rush intensity. Beside the natural endorphins exercise releases, when I am engaged in cardiovascular activity (I am making the distinction here between weight training/interval training and a steady period of cardio that consistently challenges the heart over an extended period of time) my synapses make new connections, my lymph clears out the crap, my mind goes into a meditative state, and, apparently, I get younger.
If you are not a fitness freak, I get how hard it is to start exercising. If you don’t have all the underlying reasons (often called ‘baggage’) to exercise, starting to do so can be as daunting and difficult as starting a program of recovery. I might even go so far as to say it is actually harder. In a recovery program, we take action because on one hand we have no choice (we try to recover or stay forever stuck in the same place) and on the other hand our desire to exorcise the pain of our life forces us into action. Then there are the people telling us we need to change or else, that loving ultimatum offered to rescue us from the fight between ‘good and evil.’ Somehow with exercise, even though we know the benefits, we watch how healthy and happy other people are, we covet their bodies, their sexual energy, their high spirits, we don’t have the same need to engage in that healthy behavioral way. There isn’t a meeting which encourages daily exercise (as in a daily reprieve), there is no public counting days to a healthier life, there is no family member whose innocent question (How are you doing?) is actually loaded with specific need to know (are you still sober, or rather, did you get your cardio today?) There is very little accountability. The person next to you, unless you’re at the gym, is just as likely as you to have skipped any form of exercise the day before.
Sweeping generalization, I know, but if I went to my regular meeting and gave out a survey of the 60+ people who attend with questions regarding their cardiovascular activity for the week including knowing what their maximum heart rate is, for how long did they raise their resting heart beat when engaged in physical activity, or simply, how many days did they get their heart beat above it’s resting state, I am confident 75% wouldn’t even fill out the survey. They would avoid the survey like they avoid exercise because somehow adding something to one’s life is even harder than taking something away. And the benefits could actually be as great if not greater. (I’m hearing some groans.)
In a recent New York Times article about Fitness Age describing the researched benefits of being an older competitive athlete, the outcome was clear: you can change your age, your fitness age. I dare say that while recovery from an addiction is the act of saving one’s life, being in recovery does not decrease your fitness age. It conceivably stops the damage already done, perhaps helps the body to heal, and saves one from the hell into which they have descended. But this isn’t always the case. Removing the drug to which one is addicted may save a life; but too many stop right there. That’s it. Life is based on counting how many days the drug has remained out of one’s life. And yet, if the research is true, we could be doing so much more. And most of us don’t.
I am a man who has lived with HIV for ten years now. 5 years ago I received an AIDS diagnosis because I was doing all sorts of things to hurt myself in my addiction. I’ve injected the worst forms of drugs, bath-salts, the purest forms of research chemicals you can find on the planet, used dirty syringes in the hopes of contracting something deadly (little did I know that when I contracted HIV it was no longer a death sentence). When I stopped, my body restored it’s order; I am a relatively healthy person when I allow my body to be in a natural state. I’m 47 years old. But I exercise.
My fitness age: 26.
How is that possible? The calculator measures resting heart beat against maximum heart beat with amount of cardio to body fat index. And that’s that. It’s really quite simple and is nothing new. The reality of exercise is that it not only keeps you healthy, it can reduce your fitness age. Personally, I’m not in recovery to live a life based solely on my not doing an unhealthy behavior. Living a life trying to hold something at bay is exhausting. Just look at the faces of those around you in recovery. But living a life holding something at bay while adding something that actually changes your age, your spirit, your energy, your cellular make up, you outlook, your looks is something I want to do. I see so much potential in people, so much more than they likely see in themselves. That could be the chronic human condition. We have to try to rediscovery our potential which includes adding behaviors which can alter our physical, mental, and emotional being. Nothing, not even abstinence from your drug of choice, can do that as dramatically as cardiovascular exercise.