What roles does physical activity play following the death of a parent as a young person? A qualitative investigation

Jane Williams, Neil Howlett, Gillian W. Shorter, Julia K. Zakrzewski-Fruer, Angel Marie Chater

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Background: Physical activity benefits physical and mental health. However, limited research investigates if physical activity can improve outcomes from the grieving process following the death of a parent. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 individuals (n = 8 female; age M = 31.2 years), who had experienced the death of a parent when they were aged between 10 and 24 years old, using retrospective recall. Data were analysed inductively using thematic analysis. Results: Six themes were identified. Physical activity was seen as; 1) ‘Therapeutic’; providing an 2) ‘Emotional Outlet’ and created a strong sense of 3) ‘Social Support’. Alongside it 4) ‘Builds Confidence’, and led to 5) ‘Finding Yourself’ and 6) ‘Improved Health and wellbeing’ (physical and psychological). Conclusion: Physical activity has the potential to provide positive experiences following a parental bereavement. It can provide a sense of freedom and was seen to alleviate grief outcomes, build resilience, enable social support and create a stronger sense of self. Bereavement support services for young people who have experienced death of a parent should consider physical activity as a viable intervention to support the grieving process.
Original languageEnglish
Article number210
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2023


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bereavement
  • Child
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Parental Death
  • Parents
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult
  • Grief
  • Social Support
  • Physical Activity
  • Resilience
  • Death
  • Parental Bereavement


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