Fitness Fun: Trying to be Active with a Chronic Illness

2:00 PM chronicmigraineellie 0 Comments

Anyone who knew me before I got sick knew that I lived and breathed soccer. I had been playing since I was 4 and my family loved watching and playing it. When I got sick, however, I had to stop playing because if I over exerted myself, I would trigger a migraine. At first I felt disheartened, how was I supposed to stay active when even trying to run a mile would start the pounding that felt all to familiar in my head? 2 years ago, I gave up on fitness. I had no energy for it and I felt that I could use what little energy I had for more important things like school work or violin.
As I've been recovering over the past year and a half, I've learned how to adjust my fitness and health in a way that is rewarding for me but not damaging to my health. Now, that is to say that I haven't perfected it; in fact, it's quite the contrary. I am still learning what feels good and what is too much.
While I am still not the most active person ever, I've figured out what feels good to me and what fitness goals are realistic and which are not.
1) Listen to your body
I cannot stress how important that this is. Wednesday, I went to a spin class at Flywheel Larchmont with my internship. Usually, whenever I have gone to spin classes I overexert myself because I want to keep up with the rest of the class and with the instructor, usually ending up with a huge migraine by the end of the day. Unlike other spin classes I had been to, Flywheel stressed the importance of listening to your body, and even though Veronique was giving us recommended torque levels, there was no pressure to over-exert yourself, instead it was about finding what felt good to you and even then challenging yourself a bit. Because of this, I was able to enjoy my spin class and despite my sore muscles the next day, I felt almost completely migraine-free.
Me and the other Amplify Interns at Flywheel pre-spin class! (I'm on the far right)

2) Find what works for you
As someone who loves soccer and running, it was terrible to not be able to run. In college, I fell in love with elliptical machines, because they allowed me to feel like i was almost running but not get to the level where my head would start pounding. After a couple months, I was actually able to get on the treadmill and run a mile, pain-free.
I also love doing yoga because it allows me the freedom to really listen to my body, stretch and re-balance myself. In college, I had a monthly subscription to an online video yoga site. This allowed me to do yoga in my room, on my own time, and as much or as little as I needed to.
Furthermore, I found that doing 30 minutes of cardio and a 10 minute ab routine allowed me to feel energized and good but not totally sap all of my energy.

3) Eating in moderation
As someone who cannot live without sugar, I've learned how to tailor my diet so that I can still enjoy my favorite foods (all gluten free of course!) to maintain a relatively stable weight even when I'm not working out as frequently as I would like.

Learning all these things has taken time. Over the course of my illness, I went from someone who exercised 5-6 times a week, to never to a couple times every week or two. The most important thing it that I am happy and healthy, and starting to get back into my favorite sports and activities without fear of triggering a migraine. While I'm still far from my ideal body, I also have realized that loving my body and giving myself credit for how much it's gone through is also important. With chronic illnesses, it is often a full-body experience, and figuring out what feels good to you is the best thing that you can do for yourself. Don't beat yourself up if you can't make it to the gym or to that class you wanted to go to, there will always be another opportunity. If there is no balance between fitness and relaxation when you are taking care of yourself, it is so much harder to recover and live a happy, healthy life.