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HeadWay Issue #226 - Exercise Theory: Large and Small Goals with Migraine
January 20, 2024

In this issue:

Exercise Theory: Large and Small Goals with Migraine

Say what?! Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)

Exercise Theory: Large and Small Goals with Migraine

Ah yes! It's the time of year when those who are still faithful to their New Year's resolution to exercise more are only days away from giving up. Depressing, isn't it? But statistics tell us that there isn't much hope that the majority of us will make it past February.

Migraine patients have a disadvantage - but also an advantage here. We all know about the disadvantages - exercise itself may trigger attacks. The unpredictability of migraine makes regular exercise programs difficult.

But there's also an advantage. Many with chronic migraine have learned some secrets that other people are still working on, such as:
  • Start slowly, build up gradually
  • Make the most of the present!
  • Listen to your body
  • Exercise must go along with a regular schedule and healthy eating
All right, maybe we haven't mastered all of those things, but maybe we have learned something over the years!

Tips from Jenny and Natalie

I appreciated hearing about the experiences of Natalie and Jenny, two migraineurs who ran a half marathon to raise money for migraine research. That is an amazing accomplishment!

You can read the interview for yourself, but what are some of the tips they shared from their experience? Here's a paraphrase of some of them:
  • Plan a schedule, but don't pressure yourself to stick to it. Counterintuitive, for sure! But the idea here is not to be lazy, but to not constantly feel guilty because of the limitations of your own body. Pushing yourself, but not feeling like a failure because you didn't push too far, is a useful skill.
  • Think about your ultimate goal. In this case, it was a long distance run, so running was a priority (but not the only thing, as we'll see). But you may have different goals!
  • Find different ways of being active that won't make symptoms worse. On certain days, maybe you need to do more stretching and less intense exercise.
  • Push harder on days when you have no other plans. In other words, depending on your personal goals, you may have to push and be extra tired or even get headachy. Plan those times carefully.
  • Focus on the benefits. For Natalie and Jenny, of course, part of that was raising money to fight migraine. But it was also a feeling of structure, a feeling that you were "in control" and not your symptoms, and of course for most of us - general health.
  • "Don't rush the process". Those of us with headache conditions know that our process and progress is not the same as everyone else's. Your progress timetable is your own.
  • "Be prepared to adapt". You don't want to be the one who quits when it's barely February. But it's acceptable to adapt and make changes to make things better for you. Don't stay in a plan that isn't working for you. Make small changes.
These are great ideas for big goals - but also for small ones. When it comes to exercise with migraine, maybe we need to spend less time regretting the past and more time asking - what small goal can I set for this week or month? How can I move a little bit more today or tomorrow?

That way, we may find that we're still reaping the benefits of movement when March rolls around.

Say what?! Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)

Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic defines non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) as "the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise." That would even include standing up, pacing, making dinner, and vacuuming.

As a researcher of obesity, the power of NEAT for weight loss is important to Levine. However, NEAT has powerful implications for anyone wanting to increase their activity - especially those currently struggling with or unable to do intense exercise programs.

We've talked about similar concepts from The Posture Prescription by Dr. Arthur White. That is, how can we generally improve health throughout the day?

Dr. Levine preaches a similar belief in his book Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It. Check it out for more information! (You can even get the audiobook, and pace while you listen...)

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
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