Thursday, May 08, 2008

exercise: double-edged sword for migraineurs

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The American Headache Society promotes practicing "Headache Hygiene" - reducing the likelihood of migraine attacks by avoiding certain behaviors and routinely engaging in others. High on the list of recommended lifestyle changes is regular exercise.

However, for many with migraine disease, exercise induces migraine attacks. This makes it nearly impossible for them to get the exercise they need without finding themselves unable to go about the rest of the activities they need to do in their day to day lives.

The push and pull of knowing I need exercise and also knowing it triggers migraines has weighed heavily on my mind for years. I had my first migraine at about age 6 and my earliest triggers were heat and exercise. They are still two of the factors I find the hardest to overcome. As I've become more and more disabled from frequent migraines, I've found myself less able all the time to incorporate any physical activity into my routine.

With the onset of spring, however, has come renewed focus on trying to get out of the house every day and spend at least a little time walking around my neighborhood. I love listening to music and podcasts, so I add new programs and playlists to my iPod every day and head out to enjoy the crisp spring weather and soak up the sunshine.

I've been doing this for a few weeks now and it gets easier every single day. When I started out I promised myself I would take it very slow and be realistic about how far I could reasonably go during each outing. I have a history of diving in head first and overdoing it, which we all know is a surefire recipe for burning yourself out before you have had a chance of developing a habit.

I suspect taking Namenda as a preventative (I'm taking 30 mg a day now) is helping me feel well enough to focus more on exercise and nutrition, but I'm hoping the activity and sunshine will help perpetuate the energy and good feelings that recently reappeared for the first time in more than five years. I've also been getting weekly massages, which seem to be quite helpful in reducing the neck pain and stiffness that invariably leads to migraine attacks.

As I mentioned before, heat is still a terrible trigger for me and we have some truly horrible hot weather in Kansas during the summer. I'm hoping I'll be able to tolerate it a bit better this year by slowly exposing myself to the heat and humidity through these daily walks. On days when it's far too hot for me to be out without getting an instant migraine I plan to head to a mall or store and spend time walking around. Yeah, it might be a little embarrassing at first, but I need to do whatever it takes to care for myself.

If you're struggling to get exercise because you experience exercise induced migraines, here are some essential tips.

(1) Take it slow. A few minutes a day of exercise is better than none at all. If you build up a little at a time you'll find yourself getting the recommended amount of exercise before you know it.

(2) Make it fun. Walk with your pet, your girlfriends or your kids. Or treat it as quality time for numero uno: yourself! Load up your iPod with your favorite music and take some time to treat yourself well. If you hate the idea of exercising, head to an area full you stores you love and do some window shopping. Be creative and you'll think of a way to incorporate activity that sounds tolerable.

(3) Build a habit. It takes time to incorporate a new routine into your life. So while you may have to talk yourself into it on some days early on, just do it. You'll feel better after you do it each day and before long you'll realize you just don't feel right if you don't fit your daily exercise in.

Headache Hygiene

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