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Oldest Marathoner Turned to Running to Cope With Grief
Running from your feelings is the last thing any legitimate grief counselor would suggest if you're trying to cope with the recent loss of a loved one.
That's why the story of 101-year-old Fauja Singh—the world's oldest marathoner—is both inspiring, and ironic.
After being forced to give up running as a young boy in order to work on his farm, Singh began pounding the pavement again in his late 80s in order to help chase away the deep depression that engulfed him after his wife, daughter and son all died in quick succession in the 1990s.
Singh didn't set out to be the world's first centenarian marathoner—he was just looking for a way to cope with his grief by reconnecting with his childhood passion. In an interview with CNN, Singh, the so-called, "Turbaned Tornado," said that he turned to running as a way to find focus and renewed purpose after the deaths of his family members.
Nine marathons (and countless shorter races) later, Singh is now officially retired from competitive running. He completed his final race, a 10k in Hong Kong, in 1 hour, 32 minutes and 28 seconds—four minutes faster than his previous best time.
The secret to Singh's success—happiness.
"From a tragedy has come a lot of success and happiness," he tells the Associated Press.
Even though he's retired, Singh won't be exchanging his running shoes for bedroom slippers anytime soon. He still plans on running, for both charity and exercise, for as long as he can.
Exercise defends against depression
For someone trying to fight off depression and manage their grief after the death of a loved one, exercise can offer significant benefits.
"Physical activity is a healthy way to cope and manage the stress of grief," says Diane Snyder-Cowan, M.A, Director of the Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center for Hospice of the Western Reserve.
Exercise releases endorphins, feel-good hormones that can almost instantly elevate a person's mood and invite a sense of perspective, according to Aurora Winter, life coach and founder of the Grief Coach Academy.
But you don't have to run marathons to reap the benefits of exercise. The physical and emotional toll exacted by the grieving process may also be mitigated by moderate exercise.
Over the long term, consistent physical activity can help boost an immune system that has been compromised by stress and sadness, as well as regulate disrupted sleep patterns, says Cowan.
No easy answers when coping with death
Grieving the death of a loved one is a complex and highly individual process. What works for one person won't necessarily work for another. You can't put a timeline on grief, or divide it into concrete, sequential stages. Exercise can certainly help the grieving process, but it is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to working through a profound loss.
This is especially true for those men and women taking care of elderly family members during their final hours, days, months and years. As hard as taking care of a senior is, dealing with the abrupt changes of caregiving ending after the death of a loved one can be equally challenging. All a caregiver can really do is honor their individual mourning process and try to gradually re-build their life.