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How do you mend a broken heart?


You have just broken up with someone. What should you do to make yourself feel better? Exercise – at least if you believe minor celebrities, yoga gurus (there are set workouts for heartache), and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, all of whom claim it reduces feelings of sadness and anger. If the breakup is minor, stop reading now – you should be resilient enough to shrug it off. But if you are feeling that peculiarly intense pain of rejection, then exercise can help you to sleep and raise your mood and self-esteem. The endorphins released during exercise are nature’s own brand of pain relief. The amount of exercise suggested by the Mental Health Foundation (generally, not specifically for breakups) is 30 minutes five times a week. Less will still help. But is there anything else you can do, if you don’t fancy sweating over your ex?

The solution

The research into the mental-health benefits of exercise is actually quite weak – partly because there are not enough high-quality studies. So other things are worth trying. For a start, you should stop looking at your ex on Facebook. A study of 464 people, mostly students (80% women), found that those who monitored an ex’s Facebook page took longer to recover emotionally and to move on from their relationship. This concurs with research on offline contact, which suggests that the best way to get over an ex is to have no exposure to them.

There is evidence, though, that rehashing your heartache is helpful. A study of 210 young adults who had recently separated, published in Social Psychology and Personality Science, found that those who completed tasks that asked them to reflect on their relationships (including speaking about them privately into a voice recorder four times over nine weeks) recovered better than those who were just given a questionnaire and no activities. The author of the study, Grace Larson, said that regaining a sense of self was particularly helpful. Her study did this through getting people to reflect on what they neglected in themselves during the relationship.

Going out on the rebound with someone else has traditionally been considered a bad thing – you might look for a similar partner and repeat bad habits, or just hurt the new partner. But research seems to show (again in young people, as all these studies are done on students – how lazy is that?) that rapidly beginning a new relationship is actually good for your self-esteem and also weans you off your ex.

So, if you want to combine this with exercise, the ideal would be to quickly meet your new partner at the gym …

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