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Choosing to exercise when it’s the last thing I want to do

The week after Thanksgiving, my sister and I drove to Florida to visit family. Our parents live in a lovely retirement community about 15 minutes from the Atlantic, and our aunt and uncle live in Cape Canaveral. Some cousins came down, too, to enjoy a family-owned timeshare condo that week. The stage was set for a really fun week with family. The stage was also set for migraines, as so many triggers were present: unpredictable meal times, long travel days, potential dehydration from being in the sun and out of my routine, and stress (however happy) dealing with the logistics of planning get-togethers with a big family.

The first day we woke up at my parents’ house, I felt a little achy. I have at least one migraine episode every single time I visit them, so I figured that day would be the day. I lounged in my pajamas on the couch. We tend to be a family of late risers, so my dad and I ended up sitting and chatting over coffee well into mid-morning. I tried to ignore the sensations I experience during the migraine prodrome. I was a little bit achy and my neck had begun to hurt just the tiniest bit.

Once the plan was made to go out to eat and then do a little bit of shopping, I knew I had some time to play with since it takes a long time for Geddises to mobilize and actually leave the house. My first inclination was to read a little more of my book and then take a hot shower, but instead I went with the opposite plan: I laced my sneakers up, found my headphones, and went for a walk.

The neighborhood is just lovely, and the weather couldn’t have agreed more with me. It was partly cloudy and warm—wearing shorts and a T-shirt felt amazing after the chilly town I’d left for the week. Instead of listening to a podcast or an audiobook, I listened to some favorite songs while strolling, and that made me up the pace a little bit. I saw birds and flowers; I waved to my parents’ neighbors as they cruised by on golf carts.

As I approached my parents’ driveway after a thirty-five minute stroll, I got that walking high I hadn’t had in so long due to my lethargy and lack of exercise at home. (It’s nicknamed a “runner’s high,” but I’m here to tell you that a walk of 30-60 minutes will get you that same sensation.)

My point of view had altered completely and any sign of an impending migraine was totally gone. I jumped in the shower and surprised myself by saying aloud, “I feel amazing!”

I wish I could stay the feeling of goodwill and health stayed strong the whole week, but it didn’t. I did feel good most of the trip, though, which was a positive change. And I remembered what got me hooked on walking years ago. I’ve lost the habit but am hoping to get myself back in action. When I need to remind myself of how transformative some gentle exercise and alone time can be, I will just refer back to this blog and hope I’ll take a cue from my past self and go out and stroll.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Dana
    6 years ago

    I have also been told by neurologist that exercise is a must, however, I have exercised routinely in the past and have routinely gotten migraines from the exercise. The exercise was always high impact aerobic work out classes that I put my ‘ALL’ into. After years of no exercise, I have finally discovered the key to not getting a exercise induced migraine headaches. The exercise cannot increase my heart rate over 130 bpm (I am 50 yrs old). If I exercise at this slow consistent rate I feel great afterwards and do not get the migraine afterward.

  • TracyM09
    6 years ago

    Every Neurologist I’ve ever seen says that you must exercise! Got it…however, I have a very arthritic left knee (being replaced on 11 March, yeehaw) so I found a way to swim efficiently in a little Condominium pool! I bought a swim leash, I put on a web belt then I hook myself to the side of the pool and swim in place! I have very obnoxious Photophobia so I got goggles with protective lenses, now the sun doesn’t bounce off the bottom right into the back of my eyes! I found a waterproof MP3 player and earphones, so I can swim without hurting any of me! I did a mile last June, so after my surgery I’ll be training up for more miles to come! I Love the water, it’s so refreshing and peaceful. I take Tamoxifen for Breast Cancer, it was causing massive heat waves and Tsunami Migraines, the swimming pool came to the rescue again! Even though I swim I make sure to drink water throughout the day too!! Be Well!!

  • TwoFeet
    6 years ago

    Thank you for this article. I find that if I get moving in the morning when I feel a migraine coming I have a lot better chance of avoiding it.

    Also, I recently discovered something about exercise that I would like to share in case it helps someone else. Occasional exercise triggers migraines for me (well, the soreness the next day or two is what triggers them.) So, I have avoided exercise and also a lot of fun activities that require some physical exercise (even walks sometimes) for much of my life.

    However, if I’m consistent with my exercise, then it actually decreases the number of migraines I get. (not to mention it helps with mental, emotional, and physical health in many other ways…which is probably why I finally decided to do it anyway.) My exercise of choice is running.

    For exercise to work for me it has to be increased so gradually that I hardly get sore at all, if at all. No one else can set the pace for me. And it has to be consistent. I started two months ago. I can now do over a 3 mile run without it triggering a migraine. (I couldn’t even get through one mile without walking a bunch when I started.) It’s pretty amazing.

    I think the key is consistency. Without consistency, exercise is poison to me. With consistency, exercise is working better than any medication.

    And, I can easily justify the time spent because I’ve gained it all back and more in migraines I’m avoiding.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    6 years ago

    Two Feet,
    Thanks for sharing! Exercise can feel like a huge task when you have Migraines. Staying under the covers seems like a better idea. I really applaud your efforts. I began an exercise regimen a year ago and it’s made a huge impact in terms of energy and overall well-being. You’ve given some great tips to others. Good luck!

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