Like many things in life, exercise can be a double-edged sword for migraineurs. Experts recommend exercise as an important component of a migraine prevention plan.
Yet a significant number of migraineurs find exertion, including vigorous exercise, to be a common trigger for their attacks. Here are some tips for balancing these competing aspects of exercise.
1. Pace yourself
Pay attention to how you’re feeling on any given day and exercise accordingly. I used to approach exercise like I was killing snakes. It was an hour of Tae-Bo or nothing. Since I’ve dealt with exercise-induced migraine attacks my entire life, that was a silly, useless approach to exercise for me. I’m better off to go for a swim or a walk on a cool day. Walks are especially great because I can take my active little Jack Russell Terrier Maisy with me, which she absolutely loves!
2. Work up to more intense exercise
When you’re starting a new exercise routine, meet yourself where you are. If you haven’t been doing any kind of exercise, anything is an improvement. You don’t need to break yourself completely down like they do to the contestants on The Biggest Loser. This is real life. Take it slowly and work up to more intense work outs. The migraine brain doesn’t like change at all, but it responds much better to a gradual changes than it does to drastic changes.
3. Pay attention to your other triggers
Triggers are stackable. While exposure to one trigger alone may not lead to the onset of a migraine attack, exposure to a few triggers at once is more likely to. If you’ve already been exposed to other triggers be careful about overdoing it with exercise that day. Take it easy or take the day off entirely.
4. Stay hydrated
Always drink plenty of water before, during and after any kind of workout. Dehydration is a common migraine trigger. When you exercise your body needs to replace the water you’re sweating out.
5. Keep it low impact
Exercise like swimming can be a great option for migraineurs to work their hearts without the migraine-inducing intensity that comes with an activity like running or aerobics. Walking (either indoors on a treadmill or outside on a moderate day) is also a wonderful option for getting your heart pumping without increasing your chances of bringing on a migraine attack. Gentle stretching and yoga are also great ways to move your body without exerting yourself in a way that is likely to trigger a migraine attack.
How do you approach exercise as a migraineur? What activities work best for you?