Exercise boosts health and heals pet loss grief

Exercise boosts health and heals pet loss grief

When you suffer any type of loss in your life, you experience a wide range of emotions. In the wake of a cherished pet’s death, you might feel anger, isolation, sadness, anxiety, and even denial. The emotions you feel during this difficult time are normal, but they can have a huge physical impact on your body.

Like other sources of bereavement, pet loss grief can come on suddenly or grow slowly over a long period of time. You might feel extreme lows weeks or even years after your furry family member has passed on. Your emotions are unpredictable, which makes it hard to maintain a healthy and productive lifestyle.

Excercise is a must-have because of its positive benefits for those going through the grief of a lost loved one. When you’re physically active, you give yourself a healthy distraction from the muddled emotions you’re feeling as you grieve. Fitness also helps to expel some of the negative energy and hormones from your body.

Why is exercise so effective in combating the negative effects of pet loss grief?

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The Science for How Movement and Exercise Impacts the Grief Process

For one thing, exercise is great therapy. This is especially true for high-intensity workouts, which give you a sense of control that’s often lacking when going through a traumatic loss. Exercise can help you focus your thoughts and energies on something productive and may give you a new sense of purpose.

Exercise also improves blood flow to your brain. You’ll be able to clear away the mental fog of grief and have your mood boosted by the release of endorphins and dopamine. Exercise is, quite simply, one of the most effective treatment strategies for the depression that accompanies pet loss. Once you reassert control over your physical fitness, you’ll start looking for ways to take the reins in other aspects of your life.

You’ll also feel better physically when you make time for exercise. If you suffer from headaches, insomnia, fatigue, or loss of appetite as a result of your grief, getting regular exercise can help you get back on track.

Your immune system can also take a significant hit from the stress related to pet loss. When you’re feeling the blues of bereavement, the last thing you need is to get sick. Exercise is a great way to strengthen your body to fight off illness. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help to ward off the flu and even the common cold. By increasing your circulation and blood flow, you’ll feel more inspired and energetic in everything you do.  

Perhaps more than anything else, you want to achieve a sense of calm when you’re grieving. Exercise changes the level of serotonin in your brain, promoting creation of feel good hormones. Being physically active also stimulates the production of neurons that release a key neurotransmitter called GABA. This helps induce a natural state of calm that antidepressants can’t match. One of the best parts of these mood-boosting effects is that you’ll feel them right after a workout and long after it’s over.

What's more, exercise can help you rediscover your motivation for work and other important interests in your life. Getting back into your old routine is one of the hardest things to do after losing your pet. With regular exercise, you’ll find that time management, focus, and discipline all improve. Your mood and mental focus will sharpen if you commit to regular workouts, and the healing process will accelerate accordingly. You’ll be more motivated to honour your pet’s memory in a healthy way, which will help you get back on track in every other area of your life.

When you’re more engaged in your work, your productivity and overall mental wellbeing will improve significantly. With a greater sense of accomplishment, you’ll be freshly inspired to keep finding healthy ways to celebrate your pet’s memory and move into the next phase of your life.

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Which Exercises Are Best for Combating the Symptoms of Pet Loss Grief

Your first priority in overcoming the physical and emotional symptoms of grief is to just get moving. Any activity that sparks your interest is worth pursuing when you’re going through such a difficult time.

Physical activity helps release endorphins that awaken your mind and body while stabilizing your mood. In general terms, it’s best to take things slowly as you get more active after losing a treasured animal friend. You’re fatigued already by the weight of grief, so you don’t want to do too much too fast. However, the following types of exercises are especially helpful in optimizing your mental and physical health in the aftermath of pet loss:

  • Yoga: Participating in this ancient practice teaches you to breathe deeply and relieve muscle tension as you exercise. The stress of pet loss grief creates remarkable tension, so yoga and other stretching routines go a long way toward making you feel more at ease. Studies have shown that 30 minutes of yoga can lower blood pressure and improve immune system function. It’s a great way to calm your mind and relax your entire body at the same time.
  • Mindful walks: Walking is an ideal activity to help you process your emotions while getting some fresh air. Walking mindfully is even more beneficial. Do your best to be present in the moment and notice everything going on around you when you go for a walk. You can walk by yourself or with a friend. Exchanging pleasant memories of your pet with someone who understands your pain is also a good way to enhance the act of walking.
  • Spending time in nature: Going for a walk in the park, having a swim in the ocean, or striking out on a rock climbing adventure are all good ideas for getting some fresh air when you exercise. Being surrounded by nature is a good way to get a new perspective on what you’re feeling and the circle of life. You’ll remember your own place in the larger picture and how you can best honor your pet’s life as well.
  • Meditating: Meditation for grief and loss is all about helping you ease your suffering. Through medication, you can learn how to stay in the present while still remembering your pet’s special place in your life. Meditation helps you get centred, which makes it easier to show compassion to yourself and find a new normal for life.

Exercise is an essential element of a healthy life, and it’s one of the best ways to restore balance after losing a pet. Regular physical activity will help you get back on track at work and find calm in your life at home as you heal from the pain of pet loss.


Images: Trevor Paterson, Austin Neill, Brina Blum