Bereavement can often leave us feeling rudderless and not in control of our lives. We can feel overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks and want to just dive under the duvet and never come out.
I understand how overpowering grief can be and the eternal question ‘What is the point?’. But I also know, first hand, how being active, keeping moving and doing exercise has the power to (if not completely heal) at least help us cope with our loss.
Why is movement and exercise so important?
Stress, anxiety and worry are often by-products of grief but thankfully exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of relieving them and something as simple as a daily walk has the power to transform not only our physical wellbeing but our emotional wellbeing too.
When stress affects the brain the rest of the body is impacted too. But when we exercise, the brain produces endorphins – natural painkillers. Endorphins are also known as the ‘runners high’ because they stimulate the brain in a similar way to recreational drugs but without the harmful side effects. Endorphins give us a feeling of relaxation and optimism.
Stress also causes the release of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are the ones known for our fight or flight response, helping us to escape danger such as a speeding car, quickly. The muscles contract, the jaw tenses, the heart beats faster, we breath more rapidly and blood pressure increases. Unfortunately, prolonged periods of stress result in the levels of adrenaline and cortisol remaining high and can actually lead to increased anxiety, depression and even obesity, both directly, by causing people to eat more, or indirectly by decreasing sleep and lack of exercise.
Over time this chronic stress will take its toll on our physical and psychological health.
So, how do we motivate ourselves to move?
How can we make ourselves be active and engage in exercise when it’s the last thing we feel like doing?
Perhaps we need to “fake it ’til we make it”. Pretend to ourselves that this is what we really want to do and eventually one day we realise that we are no longer faking.
Here are a few ideas:
Arrange to walk or exercise with a friend or family member.
If you have a dog then it will need exercising but if you don’t have one, perhaps you can offer to walk a friend or neighbour’s dog.
Join an exercise studio – a little bit more complicated at the moment but there are lots of great online options available.
Join a litter picking group, perhaps a beach or canal clean.
Volunteer to plant trees, lay paths or general conservation.
Check out your local council’s website for volunteering opportunities and to find a list of parks (information for Leeds can be found here).
11 reasons we need to move and exercise
Movement has the power to transform our minds and our bodies.
Movement and exercise help to release our endorphins, our ‘feel good’ hormones and reduce our stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.
Exercise deepens breathing, relieves muscle tension and induces calm.
Committing to doing a form of exercise each day will give structure to your day.
Exercising outdoors in a natural environment (Green Exercise) has been proven to have a positive effect on self-esteem and improving mood. It has been noticed to be especially beneficial for people struggling with depression and anxiety. If you enjoy solitude then immersing yourself in a forest or walking around a lake could be just what you need.
Making time for yourself. Often there are others we need to care for and we end up neglecting our own wellbeing. Finding time for self-care is not selfish, it is vital.
Exercise will help you to clear your mind by focusing on the natural environment, the particular exercise you are doing or how your body is moving and responding to the exercise.
Exercising as part of a group, whether in person or virtually, will allow you to engage with others without you being the focal point. This way we can ease our way back into social settings without having to engage with others on too personal a level.
With regular exercise our body will start to tone and strengthen and our self image improves.
The discipline of regular exercise can help us to achieve other goals through focus and a sense of achievement.
Regular exercise can improve our ability to sleep which in turn reduces stress. Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus all of which help to induce calm.
Try to commit to just 15-20 minutes of exercise every day but don’t worry if you miss a day. The important thing is to find something that you enjoy doing and can commit to on a regular basis.
Life is precious. The very fact that we mourn the loss of someone is precisely because we know how precious life is. Make the most of yours.
Space Fitness and Wellbeing have recently launched their free Free 5 Day Pilates Fitness Journey – follow the link to sign up.