Updated: Apr 30, 2019
I'm sure you've heard it all-- endless recommendations from family, friends and online articles telling you how to overcome your grief. While everyone may act like they know what's best, they probably don't because they're not you.
With that being said, we wanted to give you a bit of information in case exercising could personally help you.
Did you know that exercising can minimize the physical/emotional effects of grief in some people?
Our doctors always tell us that we need to maintain our health by exercising and eating healthy because it can reduce the risk of heart disease, help to fight obesity & lower your cholesterol. However, did you know that there are specific health benefits that are particularly helpful for those who are grieving?
Emotionally, exercising releases endorphins to our brain to boost our mood. Mentally, the act of exercising can provide a sense of control & focus. Physically, it can increase blood flow to the brain, helping to minimize "Widow's Fog". Learn more about what it can do for you, and learn about why Widow Care emphasizes our new "Strength" focus through our "Dancing Again" series & health classes.
Exercising may help you to feel fulfilled as you accomplish your goals, but there's also a physical reason for your mood changes. When you exercise, your brain reacts and causes the release of mood enhancing chemicals.
"A number of neurotransmitters are [...] triggered, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. Some of these are well-known for their role in mood control. Exercise, in fact, is one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression" (Dr. Mercola, 2014).
Dopamine is famously known for causing feelings of Euphoria, Reward/motivation, and Serotonin is also known for improving mood. Furthermore, exercising can increase blood flow to the brain, which can help to reduce "Widow's Fog".
As we mentioned in our article "Grief's Physical Impact", grief causes a variety of physical symptoms and can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to viruses (and potentially causing those viruses to last longer).
However, studies have found that exercising daily (for at least half an hour) can boost your immune system.
"A yearlong study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center showed that 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day cut the risk of colds in half — and increased immunity over time" (Provost, 2009).
They're still studying the reason behind this, but some of the theories presented in MedLine Plus's article include the following:
Exercising causes you to breathe more rapidly/vigorously, thus it may help to flush bacteria out of your airways
Physical activity increases your blood flow, so white blood cells movement increases; this could cause these antibodies to detect illnesses earlier, potentially enabling them to fight-off viruses before they spread.
The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing.
Read more about these theories here. Another theory ties back into the release of endorphins-- these endorphins can improve immune response, effectively boosting your immune system.
Exercising Requires Focus & Control
In this article, Dr. Mercola discusses the therapeutic nature of exercising. There are times when we can't seem to turn our minds off. Painful memories flood your brain, you can't stop thinking about your future, perhaps you keep worrying or stressing about responsibilities. Whatever it may be, we sometimes want a break from our own thoughts-- a mental vacation where our minds go blank.
Exercising can provide you with just that, because it requires you to focus your attention on one thing & provides a distraction from your own thoughts. Moreso, losing a spouse can leave people feeling helpless. We can't help but wonder what we could have done differently to save them.
We live in a world where we're so used to being "in control" of our futures-- we're taught from a young age that we can do anything we set our minds to. That's not always the case, and it can be really really hard to face the fact that we can't dictate every outcome. Still, some of us crave control, and exercise can provide just that. You're making a conscious decision to work-out & you're achieving your goals, which is so powerful.
Self-Esteem as it relates to Loneliness
Studies have show the correlation between Widowhood and lowered self-esteem; people who become widowed experience lower self-esteem, which in turn, causes them to isolate themselves from friends and family as they don't value their own self worth.
Self-esteem is so important-- it's not just about being confident in your looks, it's about being confident in your abilities & valuing yourself. Exercising helps you to boost your self-esteem in many ways; it can make you feel accomplished, strong & confident in your appearance. All of these tie-in to how we view ourselves, and thus, how we interact with others.
When our self-esteem is low, we may not want to be around others and this can be incredibly bad for our mental health. Feelings of isolation & loneliness are linked to cases of depression, which widowed persons are already at a heightened risk of experiencing. While working out may increase our self-esteem, it is also used as a method of fighting depression.
Widow Care emphasizes social support in our meetups, and we have a few "Exercise-Centric" events coming up.
For a low-impact, low-cardio exercise to get you moving, come to our Widow(er) Swing Dance Class, happening this Friday (04/05) from 7-9pm. Entry is only $10 with an RSVP (rr $12 without) and includes a reception with lite fare, an introductory class, and time afterwards to mingle and practice your new moves! You may pay in advance, or at the door-- as long as you RSVP here, you'll receive the discount.
For a medium-intensity & cardio exercise, attend our introductory Zumba class. You'll enjoy this muscle-pumping, calorie-burning blast as you lose yourself in the music and find yourself in shape. Adjustments can be made for a low-impact exercise. RSVP on our meetup page.
Exercise and immunity: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm
Harvard Health Publishing. (2013, August). Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression
Isolation-Induced Depression in Seniors | Updated for 2019. (2019, January 23). Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://www.aginginplace.org/isolation-induced-depression-in-seniors/
Mburugu, B. M., Nyaga, V. K., Chepchieng, M. C., & Ngari, S. N. (2015, November). Self-Esteem as A social Effect of Widowhood in Meru County, Kenya: Comparative Study of Widows and Widowers. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from http://jespnet.com/journals/Vol_2_No_5_December_2015/10.pdf
Mercola. (2014, June 27). How Exercise Can Help the Grieving Process. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2014/06/27/exercise-grief.aspx
Provost, J. (2009, September 4). Get Your Immune System Fighting Fit. Retrieved April 3, 2019, from http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/body/ImmunityBoosters/Pages/GetYourImmuneSystemFightingFit.aspx#