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With Kate’s Club Spin for Kids and our ‘cheer section’ in the Atlanta marathon just around the corner, it seemed liked fate that I got an email this week from Optum Health titled “Moving Through Grief: Exercise Can Help”. I know what you are thinking – there are moments in the grief process where just getting out of bed is hard enough, not to mention actual exercise. Everyone’s grief journey is different, but exercise is something that has really helped in mine. I can vividly remember going on a jog the afternoon my grandfather died. I cried while I ran in the rain, yet at the same time felt invigorated as I thought about his amazing life and our deep love for each other. Today I thought I would share with you some of the article I received and hopefully it will inspire you to move.
For many years, experts have known that exercise enhances the action of endorphins, chemicals that circulate throughout the body.Endorphins improve natural immunity and reduce the perception of pain. They may also serve to improve mood. Another theory is that exercise stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which may directly improve mood.
Start Exercise Gradually
Of course, in the very first difficult days and weeks of acute grief, mourners may be virtually immobilized. Sleeping and eating are difficult enough. There may be no leftover energy for exercise. As the months pass, however, exercise can play a powerful role in re-engaging with life.
Work Up to More Regular Exercise
Once someone is feeling more like him or her self, for general health, experts advise getting half an hour to an hour of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, on all or most days of the week.
Run or Walk (or bike) in Someone’s Memory to Create a Positive Legacy
Participating in a local race or walk that benefits a charity or supports a medical cause in memory of a loved one can help with the grieving process because it’s a time to let feelings out and think about the person who is gone. Grievers can feel like they’re doing something meaningful to honor their loved one and, at the same time, connect to their community, which can reduce their feelings of isolation.
Benefits of Exercise in Coping with Grief
Exercise of any form will bring mental and physical health benefits. The key is finding something you enjoy and sticking with it. Vicki Costa, LCSW, Associate Director, Family Support Services, Delaware Hospice, Inc., works with people in grief. She offers these benefits of using exercise to cope with loss and depression.
1. Exercise can take you outside of your own head. If you look around you, at others in the gym or in a natural setting, you may see something bigger than your own pain.
2. Grief moves at its own pace; it’s a bit of a mystery, and sometimes it’s hard to see progress. Exercise can restore a sense of control in life because it provides a sense of confidence and mastering something.
3. Exercise provides physical benefits because it releases endorphins, which can increase a sense of well-being.
4. Exercise is perfect for “instrumental” grievers, people who are “headoriented” and don’t want to talk about their feelings. They are more “task-oriented” in their grief process and want something to do.
5. It is also perfect for “intuitive” grievers, people who are “heart oriented.” They are emotionally expressive and want to talk. For them, exercise can provide a way to have a sense of community and connect with other people.
1 Harvard Medical School. Special HealthReport, “Understanding Depression.” www.health.harvard.edu/UD. Accessed November 29, 2011.
2 Newsline, 2011 Spring Quarterly Report, Vol. 22, NO. 4, page 3, National Hospice Foundation. http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nhpco/newsline_201104/index.