Migraines and Exercise: Does Exercise Help or Hurt?

Multiple studies show how the benefits of regular exercise and routine physical activity boosts overall one’s overall health, lowering your risk of developing health conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, among others. It can also help lower cholesterol, improve sleep quality, and reduce stress.

Research additionally suggests that regular exercise may also prove helpful for individuals who suffer from migraines. In fact, aerobic exercise has been found to result in significant reductions in the number of migraine days individuals have. By “aerobic” they mean cardio, as opposed to “anaerobic” short-burst exercises like weightlifting. Other studies show that moderate exercise can also reduce the severity of migraine attacks for sufferers.

But I thought Exercise Could Trigger My Migraines…

While studies have found a link between regular exercise and a reduction in migraines, some individuals feel that exercise can trigger the onset of a migraine. Although it’s possible that your migraines and exercise go hand in hand, but there’s also likely an underlying reason. According to The Migraine Trust some underlying reasons exercise could be triggering your migraines include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • You didn’t eat enough before exercise, resulting in a rapid drop in your blood sugar.
  • You engage in strenuous exercise infrequently, which results in aching, stiff muscles that can trigger a migraine.
  • You begin exercising suddenly without warming up, leading to a sudden demand for oxygen throughout your body.
  • You begin a strenuous exercise program and a diet at the same time. If you don’t manage your diet and exercise properly, even healthy lifestyle changes may act as a trigger.
  • You didn’t drink enough water prior to and during exercise, resulting in dehydration.

How Exercise Can Help You Manage Your Migraines

Getting active and exercising can help to manage the triggers and the symptoms of migraines in several ways. When you exercise, the body releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers that also give you a sense of well-being and happiness. The production of endorphins may help combat both depression and anxiety, which are common issues among individuals experiencing chronic migraines. Exercising regularly also has the ability to boost sleep quality and consistency as well as relieving stress, both of which can be migraine triggers for some sufferers.

Studies also show that the neural systems that modulate pain may be positively affected by exercise. Recent research published in Current Pain and Headache Reports showed that with exercise, central and peripheral endogenous cannabinoids are produced by the body, helping to modulate pain, something specifically seen in what’s known as a ‘runner’s high.’ The analgesic effects of these endogenous cannabinoids that are released may also play a role in the ability of exercise that helps reduce the severity of migraines.

Starting a New Exercise Program

If you want to explore the benefits of exercise for migraines, it’s important to know how to get started. First, always talk to your physician before implementing a new exercise plan into your daily routine. If you want to begin exercising, start slowly. Beginners may want to start with just 5-10 minutes of exercise, building up their tolerance over time. Always make sure to warm up before you exercise to get your body going, and pace yourself. Pushing too hard too fast can have negative results.

Studies specifically show that aerobic exercise offers the best migraine benefits, but if you’re going to do aerobic exercise, pick a form you enjoy. Walking, swimming, cycling, jogging, and dancing are all great choices.

Studies specifically show that aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling, jogging and dancing, among others, offer the best migraine benefits. With plenty of different exercise options you can find ones that you enjoy and cycle through them to create a variety of exercise habits.

Maximizing the Benefits of Exercise for Migraines

If done wrong, exercise can result in a migraine trigger. Maximize the benefits of exercise for migraines with these helpful tips:

  1. Hydrate – Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.
  2. Eat Before Exercising – Have some food an hour to 90 minutes before you work out so your blood sugar doesn’t drop while you exercise.
  3. Warm Up – Sudden, vigorous exercise can trigger migraines, so spend at least five minutes warming up before you exercise. Walking slowly or gently stretching are great ways to warm up.
  4. Dress Correctly – Wear comfortable clothing and the right footwear for your exercise activity.
  5. Stop if Needed – If you start feeling a headache coming on or you feel uncomfortable while exercising, stop, don’t push yourself.
  6. Keep a Migraine Diary – Make sure you note your exercise habits in your migraine diary so you can find any issues that trigger migraines in order to adjust your exercise habits.

While exercise does show some promise for managing migraines, there’s still no cure for these headaches. You can help find a cure for migraines and cluster headaches by donating to The Will Erwin Headache Research Center today.