Es posible que hacer ejercicio esté muy alejado de su mente en este momento, lo cual es lógico. But even a small amount of physical activity can help support your well-being.
It’s hard to fully prepare yourself for the death of a loved one, even if you knew it was coming. The loss can overwhelm you in unexpected ways. “Your life is different now,” says Jill Cohen, C.T., a New York City–based grief counselor who has worked with dozens of seniors. “When you’re grieving, you have to adjust to a new normal.”
One coping tool that’s low-cost and readily available? Exercise. In fact, physical activity helped reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness in grieving people, according to a systematic review published in Sports Medicine-Open.
Some people naturally find solace by immersing themselves in exercise. But it's far more common for a bereaved person to struggle to find the motivation to move, Cohen notes. "I have clients who can't get out of bed," she says.
Even those who do manage to leave the house may not feel they have the energy to exercise, or they can feel out of practice, Cohen explains. "As a grief counselor, what I say to people is: I completely understand what you're going through," she says. "But I can promise you that you will feel infinitely better if you move your body just a little."
Here’s a closer look at six ways an exercise routine can support your well-being after the loss of a loved one.
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1. Exercise Can Reduce Stress
The death of someone close to you causes more than just emotional distress-it also kicks off a complex stress response within your body. Studies show that bereaved people have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and this can persist for many months. Elevated cortisol has been linked to health problems like high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
Simply moving your body can do a lot to help. People who are physically active on a regular basis report feeling better equipped to handle stress. Even a single workout can lower cortisol levels, while regular exercise helps keep cortisol under control, according to research.
2. Exercise Can Help Counteract “Grief Brain”
“It can be really hard to focus when you’re grieving,” Cohen says. Confusion, ruminating, and brain fog are common in bereaved people. Why? One 2023 study suggests that these symptoms pop up during the grieving process as the brain rewires itself to adjust to new daily realities.
Physical activity, meanwhile, can help you feel sharper. Studies have shown that exercise can benefit the brain in many ways. For example, it can improve blood flow to the brain and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
3. Exercise Can Help You Sleep
A good night's sleep is essential for your physical and mental well-being. But people who are grieving often deal with sleep disruptions - and this is particularly true for bereaved adults over the age of 50. In these cases, exercise can be a salve, reducing the risk of sleep problems, according to one study.
Thankfully, a wide variety of activities can help improve sleep quality. This includes strength training and cycling, but also yoga, tai chi, walking, and gardening, found research published in Sleep Medicine Reviews.
4. Exercise Can Boost Your Self-Esteem
Boosting the way you feel about yourself can benefit your overall mood. "Exercise isn't a panacea-it's not going to completely get rid of your grief," Cohen says. "But what it can do is get you out of your head and transport you somewhere else for an hour a day."
That shift, Cohen says, can be powerful. "You feel good, you feel proud, you feel accomplished," she says. And those feelings can help bolster you as you begin to reevaluate what your life will look like going forward.
If you were a caregiver, for example, you might not have had much time to exercise and take care of yourself. "You can start to think of this time of your life as an opportunity to recommit to yourself," Cohen says.
5. Exercise Can Help You Socialize
It's common for bereaved people to isolate themselves and become sedentary, especially right after they've lost someone. This can especially be an issue for retired seniors who already spend most of their time at home, Cohen notes.
But "keeping a routine and being in community is really important when you're grieving," she says. Research proves that older adults who have strong social support tend to be healthier and happier, and even live longer.
Connecting with others doesn't have to involve eating, drinking, and making small talk in a public setting-that might feel too overwhelming. Ask a friend to take a walk around the block or meet for a short hike, Cohen suggests.
Or consider an exercise class geared toward people the same age as you, such as a SilverSneakers class. “These can be a great way to form new friendships, which can be hard to do later in life,” Cohen says.
If you're concerned you won't be able to keep up, tell the instructor ahead of time that you're going to go at your own pace. "You don't even have to mention that you're grieving; just let the person know that there's a chance you might need to walk out, and if you do, everything's fine," Cohen explains.
6. Exercise Can Show Others You’re Taking Care of Yourself
Are your kids badgering you? "Going to a workout class, even if you don't lift a leg once you get there, will at least get your kids off your back," Cohen says, laughing. She's joking, of course, but there is a nugget of truth to the idea.
“My mom was a widow at 62, and my sister and I were constantly checking on her. Is she eating? Is she exercising? How’s her cholesterol?” Cohen says. There are likely people who want to make sure you’re OK physically and mentally—and, says Cohen, “they will be upset if you choose to ignore your health.”
When you’re ready, give exercise a try. While it can feel hard to find the motivation when you’re profoundly sad, physical activity may help you through those feelings. It can give you the time and space to process your emotions while doing something good for your body and mind.
See our sources:
Cortisol levels and grief; health problems associated with elevated cortisol levels: Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience
Stress management and regular exercise: Biological Psychology
Effects of exercise on cortisol levels: Psychoneuroendocrinology; Psychoneuroendocrinology
How the brain adjusts after loss: Current Opinion in Psychology
Exercise improves blood flow to the brain: Cerebral Cortex
Exercise reduces the risk of cognitive decline: Preventive Medicine
Importance of sleep for overall health: Nature
Benefits of exercise for sleep quality in seniors: Sleep Medicine Reviews
Happiness and longevity benefits for seniors with strong social supports: Journal of Education and Health Promotionand Frontiers in Psychology
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