Focus on Fitness During Grief

by Kathy Sears Hall
The Center for Fitness

Grief over the loss of a loved one can take a toll on your own mental and physical health.  The stress can cause increased heart rate, accelerated breathing, headaches, indigestion, trouble sleeping, weight fluctuation, depression, and anxiety disorders. The best way to diminish these symptoms is to exercise.  Exercise has been shown to be an effective coping mechanism against both the physical and mental impact of stress, with two major benefits:

  1. By doing something about the problem, you are taking control.  Taking control builds self-esteem.  Research shows that those with high self-esteem have fewer stress-related problems.
  2. Regular exercise helps you maintain the energy necessary to adapt to and handle stress over time.  It also helps your brain to focus so you can get things done.

It’s important to include three types of exercise in your routine:  Aerobic, strength, and flexibility.

  • Aerobic exercise is any activity which requires large amounts of oxygen, uses large muscle groups, is rhythmic and can be sustained over time.  Start with 10 minutes a day, a few days a week and work your way up to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  Go for a short walk, then find ways to get out of the house.  Join a group exercise class like water aerobics or low impact/dance aerobics.  The social interaction will give you a positive outlet.  This is a healthy way to mix and mingle with other people with a common interest and start “enjoying” life.
  • Strength, or resistance, training helps strengthen muscles and bones.  Start with a few squats and biceps curls with 3-5 pound weights and work into a routine that includes all major muscle groups 2-3 times per week.  Choose a weight that you can lift with good form 8-10 times before you’re glad you are done!
  • Flexibility is one of the major health-related, and often overlooked, components of physical fitness.  Stretching increases muscle suppleness, blood circulation, and agility.  It also improves posture, helps with injury rehabilitation, may decrease soreness, and is a relaxation and stress management tool.  There are 2 types of stretches:  Dynamic and Static.  Dynamic stretching involves motion and should be done to warm up the body.  Examples include slow walking, slow cycling, etc. – ideally, small movements that mimic the exercise to be performed.   Static stretching involves stretching to the farthest end of a range and holding that point for 15-30 seconds.  These should be done after exercise, focusing on the muscles involved, using slow controlled movements.  Stretches should feel good, but don’t do them if they hurt!

Bottom line, exercise activates the brain.  Activity spawns the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and improves the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body.  There’s a close relationship between mind and movement.  Exercise is transformative. It improves your mood and motivation.  Treasure the memories of your loved one, but work through the stress.  You can change your whole outlook in life if you just start to move!

About the Author: Kathy grew up in Kerrville and moved back home with her husband Charles when she early-retired from a global energy company after 27 years.  She is now a director, certified personal trainer, and group exercise instructor at The Center for Fitness. Her parents, Eddie and Gail Sears, own the business.  Gail started group exercise classes in Kerrville 36 years ago.  She passed away on New Year’s Eve after a 4 year battle with brain cancer.