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Crunching My Way to the Zoo

Crunching My Way to the Zoo

The National Zoo is 5 blocks from my apartment in Washington, DC. On the way you’ll walk through a quaint shopping district with amazing restaurants, quirky gift stores and a Metro stop that will take you to all the monuments in minutes. Growing up in West Virginia, I had always wanted to live the city life and eventually I ended up in vibrant DC. I was ready to conquer… if I could just get out of bed. My Chronic Migraines kept me sidelined for two years. It was exhausting to muster up enough energy to make it to work so it was rare if I ventured on a walking tour of the city. Actually, just walking the few blocks down the street to the bakery or movie theatre winded me. I had succumbed to my illness to the point where simple exercise seemed like I was climbing Mt. Everest.

My boyfriend, a very active guy, constantly encouraged me to get into the gym or just walk more often. In healthier times I went to the gym, kickboxing classes and hot yoga, but I’ve never been a fitness buff. He badgered me enough that I acquiesced occasionally and joined him in the gym, hoping it would buy me a few weeks before I had to go again. Since I shied away from using weights or machines, he showed me exercises to make me comfortable. He would simplify his workout so that we could do it together, but I got tired and frustrated so quickly. For a change of pace we walked down the street to the Zoo, thinking that walking would be easier for me. I ended up in tears because it was so taxing on my body and sparked a migraine. As a thin 32-year-old woman, I was ashamed that a walk around the Tidal Basin to see the Cherry Blossoms would put me in bed for a day. With each failed attempt at any physical activity, I would get mad at my boyfriend thinking, “You have no clue what this pain is like, why are you making me do this?  It’s only going to make things worse!” But he just wanted me to get better, to live a more fulfilled life. He knew being in bed all the time wasn’t helping me. And he was right.

When I went on disability from work earlier this year, I had no excuse not to build up my strength. My boyfriend is knowledgeable about exercise and he’s patient with me, but I figured I would take direction better from a professional. After talking with my doctor, I began working with a trainer twice a week for 30 minutes each session. I shared my limitations with him and he tailored each workout accordingly. Sometimes I would start an exercise and realize that it made me really dizzy, an ongoing issue due to low blood pressure caused by certain medications. I’d beat myself up, thinking that I should easily be able to do a burpee. Instead of dwelling on it, the trainer would substitute a new exercise working similar muscles. I could finish the set and feel good about what I accomplished, quickly forgetting the exercise that made me feel faint. Intense cardio is also a struggle for me. When my blood gets pumping, my head starts pounding. I’ve slowly built up time on the elliptical , but have to admit that an hour-long Zumba class is not for me.

Some workouts are better than others. I’m learning how to increase my training without causing pain. When I fall into a deep cycle of headaches, I can be away from the gym for weeks at a time. The first session back can be challenging, especially when it feels like I’m starting back at the beginning. My trainer has learned to read the look on my face and knows when the headaches are taking over. We adjust and move on. When I’m having good days, I’ll work out alone, using what I’ve learned in training. Occasionally, I’ll even go to the gym with my boyfriend and he lets me lead the exercises. That’s progress.  

Working with my trainer has allowed me to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. I’m not ready to run a 5K or enter a body building competition, but I feel much stronger. The Migraines remain a constant battle. If I’m not careful, over-zealous exercise can exacerbate the issue, so I’m learning to listen to my body. I often need a nap after my sessions. But with each workout I complete, I know that I’ve done something within my power to fight back against the Migraines. Now I’m able to join my friends and their babies at the zoo without wishing to take a taxi back home. I can play tourist around the monuments with my parents. I’m enjoying the city I live in.

I understand having a mental block when it comes to exercise. It seems so daunting. Paying for a personal trainer might not be in the budget for everyone. Most gyms offer group sessions or classes that are more wallet-friendly. YouTube is also a great resource for free exercise videos of varying lengths and intensities. Even just a 10-minute stretching session can relieve stress during a Migraine. How does exercise fit in your Migraine life? What hurdles do you have to overcome? What tricks do you use to be healthy?

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

Comments

  • connie pollington
    5 years ago

    I hope that I can get inspired by your progress. Exercise is not something I enjoy nor want to do. I guess I shouldn’t say I don’t want to I just haven’t found the exercise routine that I can stick with and enjoy. Walking outside in the heat is out of the question because as soon as I step outside I will get a migraine. The first 5 minutes of walking also leads to my heart going bonkers so I have to stop, wait till it subsides then try again. I don’t like walking on treadmills because truly it is boring as all get out. Same with the stationary bikes. So I am trying to figure out what I can do. Also, I don’t have a workout friend so I am not motivated.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Connie,
    I just came across these 2 short exercise videos that are a great starting point. It doesn’t require you to go outside, join a gym or get your heart rate up. At 8 minutes and 20 minutes, you should give them a try!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7N-6FTIt7E

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5YvtYXSocw

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Connie,
    Try something easy like stretching. I don’t know about you, but I get so tight during a Migraine attack and simple stretching helps me a lot to release some tension. It’s a start!

  • Migs12345
    5 years ago

    This is such an inspiring article! Keep going!! and please post a followup when your next goals are met 🙂 The other benefit I thought of is: at 32, you haven’t yet “hit the wall” that many women hit in the 40s or such, when your metabolism changes. Meaning, you are eating the exact same things, doing the same amount of activity, and for “no reason” you gain weight… super frustrating. This results in either hyping up your activity OR feeling like you need to cut calories (when you were already eating OK). Anyway, each person is different, but the fact that you have embarked on this early will pay off in the upcoming years. Congrats !!!

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Migs12345,
    Thanks for the support. In the past few months, I’ve been able to do yoga. Due to some meds I was on that made me very dizzy, it was really hard to do yoga with all the up and down movements. But I’ve got the dizziness under control and I’ve moved up to an advanced class. It’s challenging, but I really enjoy it. That’s been a big accomplishment.

    I’d still love to be able to run a 5K, but that’s proving to be a lot harder than I thought. Running, even on the elliptical, is challenging. Cardio can easily make my head start to pound. But I’ll keep it as a long term goal.

    And I’m sure it will get harder as I get older. I won’t lie and tell you I don’t think about my weight, but I really do want to stick with it so that I can feel better and not solely as a weight management tool. Like everything else, I try to adjust.

    Thanks for the support!
    -Katie

  • tucker
    5 years ago

    Wow, I can really relate to this too. I’ve had chronic headaches/ migraines for about 10-12 years. Even during my worst times, I always managed to get up and walk my dogs or do yoga every morning. Then I had a sudden heart problem come up a few summers ago and I could barely walk to my car after work.

    In Feb of this year, after getting my heart meds controlled, I gave in to my co-workers pleas to do a cross-training class with her and another coworker. Unfortunately, I had to go at 5:45am on work days. I hung in there going 2-3 days/week if I could for 4 months of my 6 month contract. I loved these classes. I felt strong and energized after doing one. (Back in my 20’s I LIVED at the gym doing aerobics, running and working out with the guys on free weights so this was a mini version of that) But even going to bed early around 9-9:30 did not allow my body time to recuperate. I was starting to get into a chronic cycle of exhaustion, migraines and just pure misery. I’d sleep constantly if I wasn’t at work and my head would hurt every day. Finally a pulled back muscle while doing yard work gave me the out I needed to rest at the end of June. I took a “break” but never went back.

    The sad part is that it’s now December and honestly, I’ve never had the urge to deal with exercise again. My body hurts every morning – from something as silly as my thumb joints to my back to my head and I would just rather sleep in as late as possible before getting in the hot shower to go to work. I’m sure the yoga would help, but it hurts too. I did walk the dogs this week on vacation so maybe that can be my new start.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Tucker,
    I thought I’d check in with you. It’s a new year and a great time to get back into a routine of things. The cross-training class you tried might have been too ambitious, but your prior routine of walking the dogs or yoga seemed to be good for you before. When I’m in a rut with headaches and don’t want to get back into exercise, I remember how just some simple stretching can make me feel so much better!
    Let me know how you’re doing!

  • Judy Dickerson
    5 years ago

    Boy, do I get this one. I have suffered with migraines since I was 15. I became an avid exerciser when I turned 40(I am currently 62) running 6 miles a day 6 days a week for over ten years. When my knee started to bother me I turned to weight training, but always exercising has been a part of my life. And then my migraines turned chronic and it was like a body betrayal! I couldn’t exercise at all for over 17 months…nothing. Everything hurt even walking! I had a very slow progression back to Yoga which I love, currently trying to meditate every day, but find weights impossible. It kills my neck and is almost sure to start a migraine. Meditation has been a key towards helping me learn to manage pain and learn to relax. Definitely a learning curve but I highly recommend giving it a try. Just suffered another bout where I couldn’t do anything for several months but am starting to feel better after an increase of medication (300 mgs. Topamax and 80 mgs.Inderal). For now that seems to have done the trick and I hope to get back on the path to exercising slowly, very slowly once more. I miss it like crazy!!I have tried acupuncture with no success as well as Botox which I hated but was willing to try once more. I think the key is to listen to your body and attempt to do whatever you can whenever you can. I practice positive visualization where I envision myself still running freely body strong and capable through those 6 miles that I once used to do. Who knows…maybe someday?

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Judy,
    Since it’s the new year and so many people make resolutions that are exercise focused, I thought I would check in with people who commented on this topic. I am still in awe of your dedication to exercise and determination to keep it a part of your life with chronic migraines. Knowing that you are a runner, I thought I’d share that I am working towards doing a 5K this year. Lately, I’ve been able to run 2.8 miles on the elliptical, but transitioning to the pavement will be a different story. Of course, things always change when a bad spell of headaches occur….

    How has your meditation and yoga practice been lately?

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Judy,
    Thanks for your comments. It can be very frustrating trying to exercise when the Migraines take over. I often feel like I’m starting from the beginning when I’ve missed weeks of any activity due to the pain. It seems like you’ve transitioned to doing what you know your body can handle. That alone takes a long time to master.
    And yes, who knows? Maybe someday!!!

  • Terri Zuckerman
    5 years ago

    I’m right there with you, Katie. I’m 66 and have migraines since I’m 5 years old. I used to live right near you in the Kennedy Warren and loved being next to the zoo. In the last 9 years since I moved to Atlanta, the migraines are more frequent but not as severe as when I was younger. We’ve tried every kind of medication as a preventative even Botox, and nothing has worked. I have fibromyalgia too and seems the migraines and fibro go together. Have you tried acupuncture?

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Terri- what a small world! Cleveland Park is such a great neighborhood.

    I tried acupuncture for about 9 months and didn’t find it made a significant impact. Earlier this year I also tried dry needling- very similar to acupuncture. It helped more to reduce the tightness in my neck and shoulders but then the progress plateaued so I stopped. I’m very open to alternative methods of treatment and try to listen to what my body needs.

  • GinaD
    5 years ago

    Thanks for this post. I’ve avoided exercise not only because it exacerbates the pain, but also because I feel like I can’t make a commitment to any type of regular activity – I never know from one day (one hour) to the next how I’ll feel, and my energy level is often so low that it takes every bit of effort just to get through the day. Also, the very environment of most gyms, with loud music and flourescent lights, not to mention certain odors/fragrances, is a huge migraine trigger. But your post has inspired me to seek out alternatives. Thanks!

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Gina,
    The New Year, brings hope of finding new ways to deal with our Migraines! I wanted to check in with you. Have you tried any new exercise alternatives? Gyms can be loud and trigger inducing. So I’m a big believer in taking a few moments to just stretch. It doesn’t cost anything and might help to reduce some stress of the headaches even for just a few moments. I’d love to hear if you’ve found anything that works for you!

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Gina- there have been plenty of days that I had a training session scheduled with my trainer and I just had to cancel because of Migraines. Instead of feeling bad about not meeting my workout goals for the week, I would try to stretch or do light yoga at home, which also helps relieve some of the stress of the headaches. You just have to find the right balance for you!

  • body
    5 years ago

    Great post. Love “to live a more fulfilled life while managing migraines.” Exercise is a great way to increase our bodies endorphins (natural pain relievers) and boost our serotonin levels. Like you, I make it part of my daily routine but it took a lot to get it right. My suggestion for others-talk to your doctor, start slow, ask for a referral to a physiotherapist familiar with migraines (insurance may pay). Be sure yoga instructors, personal trainers, etc. know about your disease so don’t aggravate attacks:)

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Sharon,
    I’m checking in with people who commented on this post. It seems that you’ve found a great balance of exercise that works for you in managing your headaches. Can you share one or two things you enjoy doing? Or how you use exercise, breathing, or other alternative methods to get through your headaches?

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