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Sweating tears We’re squeamish about death and dying in the UK, but if we could overcome this barrier, the industry could reach out to help many people overcome their losses through sport and physical activity. Kath Hudson reports


hen my husband lost his dad to cancer three years ago, he described the grief as being like having a dark cloud

above him all the time. Counselling had no impact, and all that sadness would have stayed put if it wasn’t for his mountain bike. Pedalling hard, he sweated out his tears and began the process of healing. More recently, a friend who has just been widowed is doing the same trails on her bike. She says that sport has been the coping mechanism that enabled her to get through the dark days. Everyone can benefit from the mental health effects of exercise, but particularly those who have been bereaved. Being active not only provides a chance to reflect, it also increases blood flow to the brain – which promotes clearer thinking – and triggers a number of beneficial neurotransmitters including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA. Exercise also improves sleep and appetite, and gives a sense of routine and control: all things that are incredibly important when you are grieving. Paralympic sprinter Dave Henson agrees that sport is an excellent way of getting life back on track after a trauma: “In hard times, sport is really good at signposting your life.

lift their mood, enabling the individual to

Sport and exercise can be the path that

If you give yourself a clearly defined goal,

see the light ahead. As one client described

leads them back to involvement in life.

then you start to plan your training, your

it: ‘I feel like I’m drowning, but when I do

“As human beings we tend to look into

food and your targets, and before long you

exercise it gives me the energy to lift

the future, and happiness research shows

find that you’re planning your life again.”

my head out of the water and breathe’.”

that people like structure and things to look

Steve Phillips, a personal trainer, has

Clinical experiences confirm this way of

forward to,” he says. “People suffering from

supported a number of people through

thinking. Sports psychologist at Glasgow

depression lose their vitality, but sport and

bereavement using exercise: “People who

Caledonian University Dr Paul McCarthy says

exercise can be a way of bringing it back.”

are suffering from grief often experience

that when people experience a significant

levels of depression and anxiety that can be

loss they frequently lose the structure in


all consuming and massively deep,” he says.

their lives too. This loss of normality can

For two years, the Greenwich branch of

“My experience is that exercise can help

lead to loneliness, depression and despair.

bereavement charity Cruse has been inviting

48 Issue 131  May / June 2017


Profile for Leisure Media

Sports Management May/June 2017 Issue 131  

Sports Management May/June 2017 Issue 131