Finding Strength: Why Exercise Helps with Grief

In 2015, Marty Skeldon lost his wife of 42 years, Mary Chris Skeldon, to breast cancer. For the last four years of Mary Chris’s life, Marty was her caregiver. He loved her, provided for her, cared for her, and —after 18 years of her battling breast cancer — he lost her.

“When my wife died, I was completely lost. I didn’t know how I was going to make it without her,” Marty shared. “One of my wife’s very best friends, Suzette Valiton, encouraged me to join the ProMedica Wildwood Athletic Club shortly after my wife died. I joined and my life hasn’t been the same.”

Marty’s healing began when he started working with a personal trainer, who shared workout and exercise tips and stressed the importance of eating right. Marty began working out in the club five days a week and changed his eating habits. Within six months, Marty lost 20 pounds, boosted his energy level and now feels healthier than ever before.

“When you exercise, it requires intense focus while giving you a sense of control; it brings a sense of purpose,” explained Bryan Williams, a personal trainer at Wildwood Athletic Club.

In fact, exercise has biological effects that help your body and your mood. “Exercise increases blood flow to your brain, allowing it to almost immediately function better,” said Williams. “It promotes several changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, which are powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.”

For someone coping with grief, exercise can be a distraction and help prevent depression by interrupting cycles of negative thoughts, said Williams.

For Marty, it helped. “Going to the club has been a form of therapy for me,” he explained. “Joining the club is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I am thankful to the staff and other members I have met. I still grieve. But, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today (in the grief healing process) if I had not decided to join. I know that joining the club helped save my life.”

Marty Skeldon 1

“Joining the club is one of the best things I’ve ever done… [it] helped save my life.”

Marty also credits his three children and six grandchildren for giving him many reasons and the strength to carry on.

Exercise can seem intimidating for any beginner, but especially for those who are dealing with loss. The important thing, said Williams, is not to get bogged down with details at first: “Just get moving; any activity that appeals to you is worth it — walking, biking, swimming, hiking, dancing. Just get started. Once you begin to heal, incorporating more specific forms of exercise will help dramatically.”

helpingafriendgrieveEncouraging healthy habits is one way you can help a friend coping with loss. Learn more in this article “How to Help Your Friend through the Grieving Process”.