Consider these results from recent research about American lifestyles:
Adults spend 70 percent of their waking hours sitting;
Less than five percent of adults engage in 30 minutes of physical activity daily;
Typical American diets exceed the recommended intake levels or limits in four categories: calories from solid fats and added sugars; refined grains; sodium; and saturated fat;
Over 78 million U.S. adults and about 12.5 million (16.9 percent) children and adolescents are obese.
Clearly, more people need to take better care of their physical selves. This is especially true for those who are grieving the death of a loved one.
Grief brings its own unique stresses and strains. For that reason, it’s vital grievers do all they can to maintain excellent health by eating nutritious, balanced meals and engaging in physical exercise.
Here are six great reasons for grievers to get physical while grieving:
- You will have more mental clarity. According to Harvard Health, researchers have found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Remaining physically active means your mind will remain alert, sharp and clear.
- You will be reminded that you are strong. After the end of a relationship, this mid 30s aged woman described how exercise empowered her: “The running helped me remember ‛I am big. I am strong.’ …In the beginning, I thought, ‛I may not be able to control all these other things in my life, but I can control this.’ Then, it became, ‛Well, if I can control that, what else can I take back?’”
- You will sweat out sadness. Exercise almost always puts people into a better mood. Endorphins, which are structurally similar to the drug morphine, are considered natural painkillers because they activate opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort, explains J. Kip Matthews, PhD., a sport and exercise psychologist. They can also help bring about feelings of euphoria.
- You will age slower. Exercise has been shown to lengthen lifespan by as much as five years. A recent study suggests that moderate-intensity exercise may slow down the aging of cells. Here’s why: As humans get older, their cells divide over and over again, their telomeres—the protective caps on the end of chromosomes—get shorter. To see how exercise affects telomeres, researchers took a muscle biopsy from 10 healthy people before and after a 45-minute ride on a stationary bicycle. They found that exercise increased levels of a molecule that protects telomeres, ultimately slowing how quickly they shorten over time. At the cellular level, it appears as though exercise slows aging.
- You will control your weight. Some grievers are unable to eat and, thus, lose weight. Others turn to food for comfort and thus, gain weight. Regular exercise will help control this issue increasing appetite so you can eat and burning calories if you over eat.
- You will combat health issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Regular exercise helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, a number of types of cancer, arthritis and falls.”
So, find an exercise that works for your body and mind. If you don’t like jogging or biking, experiment with various ways of working out until you find one that’s just right for you.
Victor M. Parachin, M. Div.,
is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.
He is the author of numerous books about grief including
The Lord Is My Shepherd:
A Psalm For The Grieving and Healing Grief.