Could exercise really help you prevent migraines? We have briefly discussed in the past, the effects of exercise on migraines. I am a huge proponent of regular exercise as a prophylaxis for migraines. This has been such a “migraine reliever” in my own life.
In this blog, I would like to go into this in a little more depth, and find out what your general routine exercise is.
According to the American Headache Society, regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines. The AHS states that “When one exercises, the body releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. Exercise reduces stress and helps individuals to sleep at night. Stress and inadequate sleep are two migraine triggers.”
Of course, some migraineurs actually get headaches or migraines when they exercise. This is often due to an elevation of blood pressure. However, this is not a excuse to avoid exercise. Exercise is very beneficial for general health and when done correctly, can work to prevent migraines.
When exercising, try following this general plan to prevent migraines:
- Stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise. This is very important as dehydration in and of itself can cause migraines. If you are thirsty, it’s a sign that you have a substantial fluid deficit which may trigger a migraine. If you do not sweat when you are exercising at a moderate to vigorous level, that is also a sign of dehydration.
- Eat sufficient food about an hour and a half before you exercise. Exercise causes blood sugar levels to decrease, and it is important to have a source of energy. You should plan to eat foods with plenty of protein, such as a protein bar or nuts, both of which are great snacks prior to exercising. (Note: If you eat too soon prior to exercising you might experience cramps. If this happens you should schedule your meals and exercise more carefully. As you are probably aware, a regular schedule is always beneficial in migraine management.)
- It is very important to warm-up properly prior to exercising. It can be very detrimental, especially for a migraine sufferer, to jump into sudden, vigorous exercise as that can trigger a migraine. A good warm-up involves walking for five minutes at a slow pace of 2.5 to 3.0 miles per hour before you start walking at a faster pace or jogging. If you are weight lifting or doing other types of resistance exercises, you should stretch or gently lift light weights before engaging in more intense resistance training.
You should gradually work up to cardio exercises that are more vigorous in intensity. As a general rule of thumb, if you can talk while exercising then it is considered moderate intensity. If you need to stop to catch your breath after saying just a few words, then it is considered vigorous in intensity. Once you reach your distance or intensity goals, then raise those goals a little or switch to a different activity to keep challenging yourself. If you are trying to increase muscular strength, the best way you can accomplish that is by lifting weights (using free weights such as barbells and dumbbells or even weight machines at the gym) and then when you no longer feel challenged by the weights you are using, increase the weights a little. If you want to improve your endurance you should include conditioning exercises, weight training, and activities such as running or swimming.
What types of exercise are right for you?
It can be hard to stay motivated with exercise programs, especially when you also have to deal with migraines. However, one of the ways to counteract that is by choosing activities that you enjoy.
- If you like to socialize and have fun, you probably would benefit by joining a walking/running club, or by going somewhere where you can play tennis, take exercise classes, or even go dancing.
- If you are the type of person who prefers to exercise on your own, your best options could be to go walking, jogging, bike riding, and/or swimming.
- If you like exercises that cause you to focus mentally, you would probably benefit from sports such as racquet sports, martial arts, yoga, or Pilates, all of which require concentration and discipline.
- If you are a spontaneous type of person, hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, etc. are all unpredictable and fun.
When it comes to exercising, technology can really help. For example, you can use an exercise DVD, gaming console such as the Wii, or even put your favorite motivational songs on an MP3 player. There are also some great apps for smart phones and tablets that can structure your fitness routine – some of these are free or have free trials, while there may be some with an inexpensive purchase option. You can also use a Fit-Bit or a pedometer to increase the amount of steps that you take each day.
However you choose to exercise, you should make it as convenient as possible. Exercise at a time of day when you are at your best. For some that is early morning, while for others they do better after work. Also, some people prefer to opt for joining a gym. If so, choose one that is conveniently located so that it is easier for you to get there. Also, remember that some health insurance plans do offer discounts at particular fitness centers. If you are a person who prefers to exercise at home, then carefully consider what type of equipment is right for you. Some like treadmills, while others do better with an exercise bike. You can also buy some inexpensive extras like jump ropes, hula-hoops, and balls to throw.
I recommend that you write down your goals and plans to help you to stick to your exercise routine. Then set yourself some type of reminder that you won’t be able to ignore. If you decide to exercise with a friend, set definite plans. Another option, if you can afford it, is to work with a personal trainer so that you have a set time. Whatever you do though, you should “protect” your exercise time…and it also helps to make yourself accountable to someone. Keep track of your exercising so that when you reach your goals, you can celebrate and mark it on your calendar. You can use a weekly written goals planner or an app like MyFitnessPal. It is also a great idea to keep a migraine diary at the same time so that as you progress, you can actually see what effect your exercise plan is having on your “migraine life.”
The most important thing for you to do is to start at the level and pace that is best for you and keep going even when it gets hard. In the long-run, you will find that the exercise will have a positive effect on your migraines – and let’s face it, for those who suffer with migraines, prevention and lessened intensity of pain is what it’s all about.
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If you are struggling with your migraines and would like to learn how to incorporate some healthy alternatives and remedies into your daily lifestyle, or if you need help with how to incorporate a solid exercise routine into your life, I would love to talk with you. Together we can discuss ways to minimize and reduce your migraines. I would love to help you achieve relief from pain and frequency of migraines. For your free consultation, click below.