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Woman smiling as she practices yoga in a field to help with chronic migraine

How I Keep Moving Despite Chronic Migraine

Reading time | 3 mins
Discover how Danielle Newport Fancher maintains an exercise routine despite living with chronic migraine.


I’ve always considered myself to be a competitive athlete. For almost all my life, I’ve competed in tennis tournaments around the country. I also played on the tennis team at my college.

Exercise and competition played a massive role in my life for years - they were a huge part of shaping my identity.

Today, I can no longer be the athlete I once was due to chronic migraine. Whenever I do any moderate-intensity exercise, I immediately experience a migraine. Because of this, I’ll often find myself in bed for days, even after doing something as simple as a couple of jumping jacks.

The last time I went for a run was around three years ago. I remember it clearly. While the first few minutes of my run along the East River in New York City felt nice, my migraine quickly reminded me that I could no longer do such things. The migraine hit within minutes and left me in bed for two days.

To stay as active as possible while catering to my "migraine brain", I've been forced to search for solutions and compromises.

Here’s are some migraine-friendly exercises I practice to keep fit and healthy. 

1. Yoga

Yoga is low-key, so I can exercise without pushing myself too far.

I especially love hot yoga. The class I go to takes place in a hot, dark room with no mirrors and scentless candles scattered throughout. I like that it feels like I’m the only person in the room. The heated room also makes it feel like I’m sweating out all of the toxins in my body despite not doing an intense round of cardio.

It’s also important to mention the instructor plays rap music during this yoga class. While the sound may be too loud for other people living with chronic migraine, I love this added element to my yoga practice — it’s fun.

I need to be careful about doing handstands or upside-down poses, which can trigger a migraine. I'll get into Child’s Pose or grab a sip of water instead to avoid these poses.

2. Pilates on a reformer

My other exercise go-to is Pilates on a reformer. The reformer is an apparatus with various pulleys that provide resistance to my movements. While I sometimes enjoy Pilates mat classes, the reformer classes give me the best workout.

The classes often move slowly, and I don't have to do much standing up and sitting down. I can feel my muscles getting stronger with each and every move. Even better, some exercises allow me to lie down on the reformer for part of the class. This feels beneficial to my heavy migraine brain.

3. Walking everywhere

I live in a major city, so my main method of transportation is walking. That means my morning and evening commute to work involves a 20-minute walk each way. I also walk to lunch, work meetings, and my after-work activities, so I walk for at least an hour every day.

Walking is the easiest way for me to exercise (and get to where I am going) without triggering additional pain.

4. Light tennis

While I’d love to return to regularly playing in competitive tennis matches, this isn’t an option for me today. So, when possible, I try to work in a casual doubles match with friends.

In these instances, we spend more time warming up our groundstrokes than competing. And if a migraine starts, I feel comfortable ducking out early.

5. Staying active as much as possible

I try to make decisions that make me slightly more active whenever possible. For example, I often take stairs instead of lifts or escalators. It helps that I live in an apartment building and have no choice but to walk up many flights of stairs whenever I come home.

During the workday, I try to stand in the back of larger meetings and take advantage of my standing desk. Every little bit helps.

The bright side

While I miss my athletic, competitive self, I am hopeful my migraines may lessen in frequency and severity someday. It's my dream to return to the tennis court and join tournaments again.

In the meantime, sticking with low-key exercise methods is the best solution for me.

NPS-IE-NP-00453 June 2022