Resisting the Urge to Curl Up
Getting and keeping the body moving is only growing in importance for me these days. As I continue aging and navigating the challenges of chronic daily migraines, I notice my body trending toward curling up, slowing down, and away from physical activity. And yet I have learned after years of doing just that (sitting nearly frozen in fear with the knowledge that movement would exacerbate pain), there is such goodness to be gained in pushing against that inclination; goodness in embracing health and striving for wellness.
Acknowledging the wear and tear of chronic pain
Exercising is one of the few proactive steps I can take in response to having daily pain. So much about chronic migraine involves feeling out of control of your body. It is hard not to feel victimized or as if you are in some strange battle day after day. The wear and tear on the body from long-term intense pain is comprehensive (picture fetal position, knotted and atrophied musculature, fatigue, shaky weakness, with everything down to hair follicles aching) and consequently, the importance of getting your body moving is all the more tremendous. Alternately, if we don’t get moving, the pain becomes cyclical - feeding off of those tight and sore muscles, triggering another migraine.
One thing is clear, regardless of whether or not pain is at play, we all have to find our own unique movement regimen that works for us. And what works best for me- won't necessarily work for you. That said- perhaps there will be parts of my journey that might be helpful to others.
Finding low-impact cardio options
Most people I’ve talked with who are navigating life with frequent or chronic migraine have found that exercises which raise their heart rate significantly tend to raise their pain accordingly. The key, therefore, for me at least, has been to find ways to exercise that don’t result in my heart pounding.
My primary mode of spiritual and physical exercise is walking. Long-distance walking. Getting outside and inhaling fresh air, seeing the world, does so much to provide perspective. When one has to spend a lot of time inside, isolated, in a controlled environment due to pain, it’s refreshing and healthy to remember that there is a big beautiful bustling world out there. I try to walk 4 or so miles a few times a week when my pain allows though there are many weeks that I may only get out once. But I believe every step is preventative medicine.
I recently connected my bicycle to a stationary trainer and have found that to also be an effective way to get exercise but not push so hard that I land in bed with a migraine for the rest of the day.
Online yoga classes
Over the course of the last several years, I've found a great offering of low-impact cardio, strength building, and yoga/pilates through online streaming and videos. Due to the frequency and unpredictability of my pain, I can’t keep the commitment of a class schedule, so the best way for me to do these types of exercises is at home when I’m able.
I hope some of these ideas resonate with you. Are you able to exercise regularly or even at all? If so, what kind of exercise or movement regimen have you found to be most effective for you?
When it comes to planning vacations or other events where travel is required, how much does migraine factor into your decision-making?