Can Exercise help with Grief?

Published: February 3, 2021

Exercise may not extinguish grief but it can play a valuable role in helping people adapt to loss. Physical activity releases brain chemicals such as endorphins, which help to relieve discomfort and boost our mood. Although grief is not the same as depression, 'complicated grief' - a form of bereavement that triggers strong emotional and physical reactions that can take years to work through - can lead to depression. Exercise helps regulate a person's mood and can prevent them from going into a low phase which can trigger depression.

A 2017 study by the Black Dog Institute found regular exercise of any intensity can help prevent depression - and just one hour a week can help.

Losing a loved one is emotionally draining and grief can take away energy and focus. Dealing with the flood of different emotions - which can unexpectedly re-emerge at any time - can feel relentless and exhausting.

Engaging in exercise can help clear the mind, even if it is just for a few minutes. Exercising can also help bring back a feeling of control, which is often lost after someone passes away - and the grieving person is thrust into a world they didn’t want to be in.

Sleep

Grief doesn't just affect us emotionally, but physically too. A 2010 study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that sleep problems were common in bereavement.

These sleep problems, in turn, can impact our mental health and exacerbate grief - as well as contribute to other problems such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Research suggests exercise can help introduce a healthy regime and improve sleep, which may help mitigate the negative impact of grief.

Summary

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to grief and loss, but there is support available for those who need it. For some people, talking to a friend, family member or health professional can help begin the healing process and work through challenging emotions. It can also help prevent isolation.


Grief is not an easy subject to talk about, but it is something we all experience at some point.

 
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