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Jane Whelan


Fitness isn’t one size fits all


Can anything stop migraines? Regular sufferer, Jane Whelan says exercise can help prevent attacks.


I’ve been looking for ways to prevent migraines for the past thirty years. And in the last five I’ve made a discovery. Exercise and fitness are my greatest allies in fending off attacks. And I’m not talking about running a marathon. Just a regular routine of moderate exercise that I can stick to.

In the beginning I felt a little overwhelmed by all the fitness options. How much exercise is the right amount? Which type of exercise is for me? Will weight training make my neck and shoulders feel tight? Am I hydrated enough? Have I eaten enough? And why are energy drinks blue? I gradually learned to take it slow and find what worked for me.

I have to admit, I’m no gym bunny. And that’s had a lot to do with my relationship with working out. If I can hardly lift my head off a pillow then I’ll hardly be queuing up for a shot on a treadmill. Although things are different now, that doesn’t mean they’ve gotten any easier. On my best day, I go for a run or take a class but there’s still a little fear of an attack if I overdo it. And don’t talk to me about team sports. A migraine attack isn’t just bad for me, it lets down the entire team. And an ear bashing from the coach is the last thing I want. And gyms themselves can be tricky. Calvin Harris music, clanging metal weights, buzzing lights and the smells. Don’t get me started on the smells. If the chlorine from the pool doesn’t make me feel dizzy, the incense billowing out from the yoga room could cause my head to finally explode.

I understand my limits when I go to the gym. Some people say that’s not the best attitude but those people obviously don’t suffer from migraines. I listen to my body. Stiffness in my neck and shoulders means ease off a little. My range of motion and ability varies so I adjust my exercise routine around how I feel from day-to-day. I’ve had to accept that I’ll have days where my body feels strong and flexible and on other days, putting one foot in front of the other is a triumph.

Exercise isn’t one size fits all. It’s personal. And information on personalised exercise is hard to come by. And that’s why I’m writing this. There’s so much focus on how you should look rather than how you feel. If you’re someone who struggles with migraines day-to-day it can feel like no-one in the fitness community understands how tough it can be, or to even do any exercise at all. But it’s one step at time. Maybe soon, better medications will be made available to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. And give us sufferers of migraines the energy and focus to look at all other aspects of our lives. Not just fitness. I’d love that.

After an attack can be difficult. My energy levels are zapped and it can take days to recover. So running a 5k race is some achievement for me. And that calls for cake.

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