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This article was first published in the Florida Divorce Magazine and are reprinted here with their full permission. dmlogo.gif (2353 bytes)

Exercise can help to relieve stress and depression -- and boost your energy -- during and after divorce.
By Silvia Pandolfi

Going through a divorce can be one of the most stressful periods in a person's life. Whether you have been married for two or 25 years, separation and divorce can take a toll on your emotional and physical health.

Some people turn to "comfort" food, alcohol, or drugs to try to make themselves feel better; others seek new romance before they're really ready for it to avoid the blues. There is something you can do to help alleviate divorce-related stress, insomnia, weight-gain or loss, and fatigue. It's inexpensive, safe (if practiced correctly), and it's actually good for you. What is this miracle? Exercise!

You probably have a million reasons not to exercise: "I have no time," "It's boring," "I hate to sweat," and "I'm too fat" are some popular excuses. But the truth is, you can make time for anything that's truly important to you -- and your health should be important to you. And if you choose an exercise you enjoy (dancing rather than jogging; aqua-aerobics rather than swimming lengths), the rest of your excuses will melt away.

Benefits of exercising

When you get right down to it, keeping your mind, body, and soul healthy during and after a divorce is your responsibility -- and it can become your pleasure. A person who exercises regularly moves with confidence; they're energetic and full of life. Exercise is a great stress-buster, and it can help to alleviate the blues -- great news for a divorcing person.

You'll not only feel better, you'll look better, too. This can put you into a positive spiral: you look better, so you start feeling better, and the better you feel, the better you look. According to Ellen Karpay, author of the Everything Total Fitness Book, you will improve your appearance through regular exercise. She points out that you'll also improve your body's ability to do more with less effort, and that feels great!

"Divorce is a huge blow to your self-esteem, and exercise can help you rebuild it," says Susan Sly, personal trainer and professor of fitness at The Sports Clubs of Canada. "And if you have children, you'll be providing them with a positive role model. It's also good -- and cheap -- therapy."

Here are some other benefits:

  • Improved respiration, cardiac output, and vascular system;
  • Increased muscular strength, endurance, and bone density;
  • Improved flexibility;
  • Improved digestion and bowel function;
  • Improved sensory skills;
  • Decreased stress, insomnia, and depression;
  • Increased social interaction;
  • You will feel and look better.

Getting Started

Many people don't exercise because they don't know where to go or what types of exercise are best suited for them. First, you need to choose a form of exercise you like; if you don't like it, you won't do it. Then you need to check with your physician to make sure there are no health risks associated with this form of exercise for you. Once your doctor gives you the thumbs-up, you need to make a plan: schedule your fitness lesson/workout at the most convenient time for you; again, if the timing is difficult, it will be a reason to skip the class.

Start off at a moderate rate. If you haven't exercised in years, don't set your sights on running a marathon next month. Many people tend to exercise too strenuously at the beginning, injure themselves or get discouraged, and drop out. "This is where many people set themselves up to fail," says Karpay. "They expect their body to perform activity at levels that are neither realistic nor recommended. Afterward, they wrongly insist that it's the exercise itself that makes them feel worse."

If you start slowly, your body will respond more effectively to the exercise. Then you can gradually increase the time and difficulty of your workout. Taking lessons, or working with a trainer, can help you to set guidelines for your workouts. The professional can also make sure you create good habits by doing the exercise correctly from the beginning. Krista Bajinski, director of fitness at the Fitness Institute in Toronto, also recommends setting short-term goals that you can achieve, which will give you a sense of accomplishment.

You should also document your exercise. Sally Edward, author of Smart Heart, says: "You can only manage what you can measure and monitor." Karpay agrees with Edward's statement, adding: "If you want to take an active role in your fitness, keep track of what you do, how much you do, and other pieces of information that relate to your health."

Which Exercise Program?

The options are almost endless: from walking or roller-blading in a park to working out at the gym to swimming/aquafit at the pool. Here are three examples of exercise programs you may not have considered: Yoga, Tai Chi, and dance.


One form of exercise that's gaining in popularity is yoga. Good for the mind, body, and soul, this stress-reliever is ideal for toning the body and calming the mind. "Yoga promotes mental clarity, so it can help you think more clearly through the divorce or separation process," says Helen Goldstein, director of the Yoga Studio in Toronto, ON. There are several styles of yoga to choose from, ranging from high energy to low energy. Yoga can help boost your self-confidence and has numerous health benefits. "Yoga can really help you sleep at night, and is also fantastic for giving you a good body. Most important of all, yoga helps you become a better person," claims Goldstein. After you've learned and practiced yoga, you may find you want to make it part of a daily routine. Although most classes are an hour in length, you can derive significant benefit from a 15-30 minute routine; have your teacher recommend a video so you can practice at home.

Tai Chi

Derived from the martial arts, Tai Chi is a system of graceful movement based on the Yin/Yang philosophy. Provided you have a good teacher, Tai Chi works on many different levels. This low-intensity, low-impact form of exercise offers increased strength and muscle tone, enhanced range of motion and flexibility, and improved balance and coordination; it has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Practicing Tai Chi can help to improve your concentration and posture, increase energy, and decrease feelings of stress.

"When it comes to Tai Chi, there is no possible disadvantage," says Tai Chi instructor Andy James. "Going through a divorce is traumatic, and that can affect you spiritually, mentally, and physically. Tai Chi helps keep everything moving. Most people start off by practicing for 15 minutes a day; those who have been practicing for a while, practice anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes a day. Half an hour is a good length for a session," he concludes.

Taoist Tai Chi, originally from Hong Kong, focuses on your health. This "moving meditation" can help you to change your body posture to improve your overall health. "We don't spend enough time taking care of our health," states family doctor and Taoist Tai Chi instructor Bruce McFarlane of Owen Sound, ON. "The focus of Taoist Tai Chi is discovering what we can do for our selves." He says that anyone can benefit from practicing Tai Chi, strengthening the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of their lives.

Dancing Up A Storm

Letting loose, having fun, increasing your self-confidence and grace, meeting new people, and getting in a little painless exercise -- that's dancing. Barring physical disabilities, it's good for just about everyone. "A good instructor at a reputable studio can teach you to dance socially with confidence," says Joel Wood, an instructor and owner of Our Studio in Thornhill, ON. "Dancing is good exercise, and it's an excellent way to make new friends or even find a new romance." Dance lessons can help shift your attention from divorce-related sadness or anger to having fun and interacting with other people. "And once you know the basic steps, you'll be much in demand as a partner," says Wood. "What could be better for your ego?"

Healthy Food Choices

Now that you've made the commitment to exercise regularly, you need to give that hard-working body some good fuel. Especially if you've been binging on high-fat comfort foods, you need to consider making healthier food choices. Because everyone has a different body, it is important to discover what types of food are best for your unique body.

In North America, we tend to eat too much meat and not enough fruits and vegetables. Try adding vegetables to every dish, opting for fish and poultry instead of red meat sometimes, or consider eating one purely vegetarian meal a day. Of course, you need to talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes.

Visit your local bookstore or library and get some books that focus on healthy and delicious meals. You'd be surprised how good healthy can taste these days!

A note for you people out their with children: you don't have to let them in on the fact that what they're eating is good for them. For instance, you can buy vegetarian "pepperoni" or "hamburger" that's virtually indistinguishable from the real thing these days -- just hide the packaging before they come in!

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