By Jen Charette
In the months after my son Axel died I was truly grateful to have cycling in my life. When you experience a loss (whether it’s death, job, divorce or other) you will have little energy or desire to launch into something new. The healthy habits and passions you built and nurtured over the years will be your ‘saving grace’ during those early day/months/years. Eventually you can emerge from your loss and launch a new life. But in those early days you need a solid foundation to just keep living.
When people deal “well” with loss they are often called resilient. What does resilient mean?
: able to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
: able to return to an original shape after being pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
When you read those two definitions do you think of a couch potato or an athlete? They both sound like athletes to me: strong, agile, healthy. Trust me, it’s who you want to be when the bad stuff hits. And it’s not just about being a a fit athlete. Forget about those “fit” women you see in magazines or on TV. A lot of them aren’t really healthy anyway. It’s about becoming strong and healthy in your own body – whatever that may look like on the outside.
Overcome physical challenges: Nicole Gross is a good example of how being an athlete can save your life. She was one of the victims in the Boston bombings. In a recent USA Today interview she said, “I attribute my attitude and progression to the fact that I can tap into that inner athlete. I don’t even care if I ever run again. I just want to do daily functioning things. It’s given me a new perspective on life, what really matters, what recovery really means.”
When you are an athlete you build more than hard abs or a toned butt. You build resilience by working through pain, pushing onward and knowing the hard work will pay off.
Fights anxiety and depression better than drugs: The ability to cope with the stress is in relation to the endorphins we have in our body. If you never or rarely tap those endorphins in your body you will not be able to when stress hits. Research shows that highly stressful emotional events such as death of a loved one, job loss, or divorce can result in a permanent suppression of endorphin levels. And if you don’t actively do something to stimulate those endorphins the stress will remain unbearable. Insert depression drugs here. Or overeating (which can also produce endorphins). Who wants to go down those paths?
“If you are highly stressed, you need to do a more intense workouts which means longer than 30 minutes; if you are less stressed, then 30 minutes should suffice,” says one researcher.
And unlike drugs, endorphins aren’t addictive, they are natural and help to regulate the body back to it’s normal state.
Increases self esteem: Self-esteem is defined as being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness. Exercise feeds valuable oxygen and nutrients to your brain to improve functioning. Think about the term “runner’s high.” After a vigorous bike ride you feel ready to take on the world. When you are going through a rough patch you need your self-esteem and you definitely need to be able to tap into it when you hit rock bottom.
“Our physical and mental well-being are intimately interwoven,” said Dr. Catherine Davis, a clinical health psychologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute.
Dr. Davis conducted a study with overweight sedentary children. She randomly assigned them to either continue their sedentary lifestyle or exercise for 20 or 40 minutes every day after school. The study found that just by getting up and doing something they were changing how they felt about themselves.
As for me, cycling has been instrumental during my loss. While being active doesn’t make the loss any easier or make it go away, it does give me the strength, power and mental clarity to deal with it head on. If I didn’t have my inner athlete I’m not sure where I would be and I’m glad I don’t have to find out.
Jen Charette is VeloMom, a blogger and avid cyclist.