Being active can relieve stress, improve sleep and even reduce migraine attacks
Exercise can be as beneficial for your mental health as it is for your physical health. That’s a particularly good thing for those living with migraine. Although it may be hard to exercise during a migraine attack, it’s important to try when you aren’t having one. There’s evidence to suggest regular exercise can help reduce the frequency of headache attacks. Not only does exercise reduce stress, a common migraine trigger, but it also helps with sleep and improves your mood.
Exercise can help manage the symptoms and triggers of migraine in a few different ways. Exercise releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins also induce positive feelings and a sense of well-being which can be especially beneficial for those living with migraine, as they face an increased risk of anxiety and depression. Additionally, exercise can improve sleep quality and consistency and help relieve stress, which are common migraine triggers.
How to Get Started
Before starting an exercise program, it’s important to check with your doctor. To prevent stress and overexertion, we recommend slowly introducing exercise into your routine. By pacing yourself, preparing for your routine with the right gear and carefully considering your diet, you can help reduce the risk of exercise-induced migraine attacks and get the most out of a workout.
First, make a plan to help you stick to staying active. Set reminders to get moving by adding time to your calendar, putting up sticky notes or setting an alarm. It helps if you aim to make your exercise more convenient by fitting it into your schedule where it works best. Some people prefer morning activities while others prefer after-work exercises. Either way, try to remove barriers to getting active by choosing a convenient location and time to workout.
Before any physical activity, warm up your muscles by stretching or taking a slow-paced walk. Over time, you can build up your tolerance and tackle longer or tougher exercises. But be sure to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard, as that can trigger a migraine attack.
Preparations Before You Start
As you add more physical activity into your life, you should pay attention to your diet and water levels. You need to fuel your body on a regular schedule and prevent yourself from feeling thirsty. Thirst is a sign that your body is low on fluids, which is a migraine trigger for many. It is important to stay hydrated, which means drinking water before and after your workout and throughout the rest of the day.
Many people living with migraine already monitor their diets closely to reduce their exposure to food triggers. If you’re increasing your physical activity, consider that you may have to alter your diet to meet your changing caloric needs.
Creating a Workout Plan
Ideally, an exercise program should include the following three elements: cardio, muscular strength endurance and flexibility training. Cardio-respiratory activities, also known as cardio exercises, include walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope and much more. You can increase muscular strength with body-weight exercises such as pushups, lifting free weights and other exercises. Finally, activities such as yoga or pilates can help to increase flexibility. An effective exercise plan combines all three elements whether in the same workout session or spread across multiple sessions on different days.
When deciding what to include in your routine, choose activities you enjoy to help you stay motivated. Physical activity should be fun. If competition helps motivate you, there are ways to compete virtually with friends. Try using different workout applications or setting challenges, for example. If you like mental focus in your activities, yoga, pilates and racquet sports require both concentration and discipline. Another way to maintain your motivation is to keep your activities exciting by switching them up. There are many options online or available through smart home workout equipment to keep you engaged in your activity.
It’s important to remember that a lot of exercise can be done for free, or for a relatively low cost. Taking a walk around your neighborhood, stretching at home or following an online yoga or fitness tutorial can make a big difference in your health without adding up your costs.
While staying active is an important part of living a balanced life, some people experience headaches when exercising, a rare headache type brought on by or occurring only during or after physical exercise. If you experience headaches from exercise you should see your doctor so that other serious health issues can be ruled out. This type of headache generally lasts five minutes to 48 hours and may have features similar to that of a migraine attack. In cases where the headache pain is mild or builds slowly, warming up before exercising may help reduce the frequency and duration of attacks.
Additional Factors to Consider
People living with migraine might not be ready to introduce exercise into their routine. So start slow and gradually work exercise into your life to help avoid attacks triggered by physical activity. As a non-pharmacological solution to multiple migraine-related symptoms and risk factors, exercise won’t interfere with your existing medication regimen, making it a treatment option worth considering in your migraine management plan.
Learn more about living with migraine and the diverse treatment options that are available by visiting our resource library.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.