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How I Keep Moving Despite Chronic Migraine

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I’ve always considered myself to be a competitive athlete. For almost all of my life, I’ve competed in tennis tournaments around the country. I also played on the tennis team at my college.

Exercise and competition have not only played a large role in my life for years, but they have also played a huge role in shaping my identity.

Today, I’m no longer capable of being the athlete I once was due to chronic migraine. Whenever I do any moderate-intensity exercise, I immediately experience a migraine. Because of this, I’ll often find myself in bed for days, even after doing something as simple as a couple of jumping jacks.

The last time I went for a run was around three years ago. I remember it clearly. While the first few minutes of my run along the East River in New York City felt nice, my migraine quickly reminded me that I can no longer do such things. Within minutes, the migraine hit and left me stuck in bed for two days.

In an effort to stay as active as possible while still catering to my migraine brain, I’ve been forced to find solutions to keep my body healthy while my migraine brain has said no.

Here’s a look at some of the ways I stay active.

1. Yoga

Yoga is low-key, so I can exercise without pushing myself too far.

I especially love hot yoga. The class I go to takes place in a hot, dark room with no mirrors and scentless candles scattered throughout. I like that it feels like I’m the only person in the room. The heated room also makes it feel like I’m sweating out all of the toxins in my body despite not doing an intense round of cardio.

It’s also important to mention the instructor plays rap music during this yoga class. While the sound may be too loud for other people living with chronic migraine, I love this added element to my yoga practice — it’s fun.

The one thing I need to be careful about is doing any handstand or upside-down poses, which can trigger a migraine for me. To avoid these poses, I’ll get into Child’s Pose or grab a sip of water instead.

2. Pilates on a reformer

My other exercise go-to is Pilates on a reformer. The reformer is an apparatus with various pulleys that provide resistance to my movements. While I sometimes enjoy Pilates mat classes, I find that the reformer (or Cadillac) classes give me the best workout.

The classes often move at a slow pace, and I don’t have to do a lot of standing up and sitting down. I can feel my muscles getting stronger with each and every move. Even better, some of the exercises allow me to lie down on the reformer for a section of the class. This feels beneficial to my heavy migraine brain.

3. Walking everywhere

I live in a major city, so my main method of transportation is walking. That means my morning and evening commute to work involves a 20-minute walk each way. I also walk to lunch, work meetings, and my after-work activities, so I walk for at least an hour every single day.

I find that walking is the easiest way for me to exercise (and get to where I am going) without triggering additional pain.

4. Light tennis

While I’d love to return back to the days where I’d regularly play in competitive tennis matches, this isn’t an option for me today. So, when possible, I try to work in a casual doubles match with friends.

In these instances, we spend more time warming up our groundstrokes than competing. And if a migraine starts, I feel comfortable ducking out early.

5. Staying active as much as possible

When possible, I try to make decisions that make me slightly more active. For example, I often take stairs instead of elevators or escalators. It helps that I live in a walk-up building and have no other choice than to walk up many flights of stairs every time I come home.

Also, during the workday, I try to stand in the back of larger meetings, and I take advantage of my standing desk, too. Every little bit helps.

The bright side

While I miss my athletic, competitive self, I am hopeful that one day my migraines will be at bay, and I’ll be able to get back to competing on the tennis court.

In the meantime, sticking with low-key methods of exercise are a great solution for me.

For more information on how to manage migraine, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.

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