Should I run away from exercise if I have migraine?

Everyone knows exercise is good for you. But those with migraine may be reluctant to do too much exercise for fear of triggering an attack
person sitting on a bench wearing running shoes

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It is an obvious point. Nevertheless, it is an important point to make: exercise is really good for you. Like really, really good for you. It helps to fend off chronic diseases and can even help you live longer. Its benefits may be especially true when it comes to migraine sufferers. One study, for example, found that aerobic exercise can have a positive effect when it comes to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. That being said, many individuals with migraine may be reluctant to engage in anything too strenuous. This is because they know (from personal experience) that exercise can have a negative impact on their health. Indeed, physical activity is often noted as a trigger of migraine attacks. But why is this the case?

Can exercise trigger migraine attacks?

Whilst there are countless benefits to regular exercise (including pain management), exercise is also linked with actually triggering migraine attacks – something you want to avoid! There are a number of reasons why you may find yourself suffering from a headache after exercising. Here are just a few examples:

women at a yoga or workout studio
Exercise is fantastic when it comes to stress relief – something that can help manage your migraine attacks
  • You haven’t eaten or drank enough before starting your exercise. Whilst exercising on an empty stomach can lead to a sharp drop in blood sugar levels, not drinking enough beforehand can bring on dehydration as your body loses water through sweat.
  • You have suffered a head injury whilst playing sport (such as a ball hitting your head in a game). This can result in instant pain as felt during the aura phase of a migraine attack.
  • You start rigorous exercise without planning, stretching, or warming up. This means that your body is not prepared, and this sudden need for more oxygen can trigger a migraine attack.
  • You undertake rigorous exercise infrequently. When you do exercise, however, you suffer from muscle aches and cramps. This both prevents you from undertaking further exercise, and may be potentially responsible for triggering your headache.

So…should I avoid exercise altogether?

Avoiding exercise altogether in a bid to avoid migraine attacks may not be the best move to make. Instead, there are different ways to approach physical activity which ensure you reap all the health benefits – without inducing a headache! Eating enough and drinking plenty are the best places to start, but it is also important to pace yourself. Be sure to warm up thoroughly and cool down properly when you are finished. It may also be helpful to make sure you’re environment is not too warm or cold, and to make notes as you exercise to enable you to identify any other potential triggers.

It is certainly important you do engage in some form of physical activity. For not only is it important for your aerobic health, it is an amazing tool when it comes to relieving stress – a well-known trigger of migraine attacks.


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