Q. I’ve heard that a woman’s risk for health problems increases after her husband dies. I didn’t know that. What are the most important issues I should be aware of as a widow?


Many studies show that losing your mate affects your own health. Most recently, a 2011 study at the University of Pennsylvania Population Studies Center found that widows had a 47% higher mortality rate than married women the same age. Another study, published in January 2012 in the American Heart Association journal “Circulation,” found grief over the death of a significant person was associated with a sharply increased risk of acute heart attack in the days and weeks following the death and funeral. 


Bereavement takes an enormous toll on the immune system, can send blood pressure soaring, and otherwise stresses mind and body in countless ways. Even risk for accidents rises because you’re distracted. You may fall into bad habits like failing to take medication you need. Yet there are ways to stay as healthy as possible. The first step is awareness of your vulnerability and taking preventive action with:


  1. Regular meals. It’s easy to skip lunch and/or dinner because you don’t feel hungry or you think, “It’s only me. Why bother cooking?” The answer is healthy nutrition has never been more important to your physical and emotional strength and well-being. 
  2. Physical activity. Find a way to fit exercise into your life no matter how tired or unmotivated you feel. I pushed myself to head for the gym especially when I felt I was falling apart. Time on the treadmill or recumbent bike forced me to focus and connect with my body. By the end of the session I felt more centered and in control. Other good options include fast walking to build strength and feel more alive, yoga to reduce stress and boost energy, and Tai Chi. The latter improves balance and strength, helping to reduce risk for falls.
  3. A checkup. Grief depletes your resources, and this is the time to get assessed by a medical professional. You’re at risk for just about anything that comes down the pike. Sleep problems and depression are common. Chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis need attention. Get your flu shot, pneumonia shot, and shingles vaccine (if you’re in the age group). 


In short, protect and take care of yourself. It isn’t selfish; it’s necessary.  



If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.


Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author—and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion



Image: Flickr Creative Commons / USAG-Humphreys

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Comment by MEG Amelia on January 7, 2013 at 10:40am

Also, check out www.bikramyoga.com it has helped me keep my mind and body fit.

Comment by MEG Amelia on January 7, 2013 at 10:39am

Find support groups and keep busy too, depression is another risk factor.

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