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A Love Letter to Endorphins

A Love Letter to Endorphins

In my recent post “You should exercise more!” I laid out several reasons why living with migraine has typically made aerobic exercise a risky venture for me. I also hypothesized that if I could overcome my fear of aerobic exercise as a trigger that the benefits might outweigh the risks. I then pledged to get sweaty for a minimum of 20 minutes, twice a week.

I’m not a betting woman. I like stability. Poker makes me squeamish; I hate the concept of the stock market; and, save for the occasional reckless rebellion, I do everything in my power to keep my life as trigger-free as possible. So entering a change room with its potential fragrance bombs and mounting the elliptical machine surrounded by televisions was a bit scary. To get there, I had to keep reminding myself (as I do when making the choice to enter any potentially triggering situation) that the worst-case scenario would be that I would leave the gym with a honkin’ migraine attack, and spend the rest of the day in bed – something that could very well happen whether I exercised or not – and that I could handle it as I have done so many times before. So I went for it, and the results have blown my expectations out of the water.

Of my six visits to the gym so far to swim or sweat it out on the machines, I can say with complete confidence that I have left the gym feeling better than when I entered every single time. During some of those visits I felt ripe for an attack with my super-powered smelling abilities, burning leg muscles, and heightened noise sensitivity, but instead of flaring into an attack, these symptoms actually retreated gradually during the workout! Like magic! Only one out of six gym visits gave way to a migraine attack later on that same day.

This is both surprising and not. While aerobic exercise has triggered immediate head pain for me in the past, my body is not the same as it was then. While I still have frequent attacks, in the interim I’ve had regular Botox treatments, found more successful acute options, and am generally not quite as susceptible as I was during my first experiment with exercise in Migraineland. Our bodies and environments are ever changing. It makes sense that we should make minor adjustments to our treatment plan over time. How glorious when an old trigger can morph into a protective factor instead!

Also, science has long supported the idea of endorphins as pain fighters. Apparently they play important role in how the brain processes pain, and can alter our experience of pain for the better.¹ Chronic pain can deplete endorphins, but exercise can release them!

Dear Endorphins,

Thanks to you, I’ve had my lowest pain month in over a year. I hope we can enjoy a long and healthy relationship and that you will continue to tell those pain pathways what’s what.

Love, Anna

I am the last person who will insist that you take up regular, vigorous exercise if you are living with frequent debilitating migraine. I know from experience that this is sometimes just not possible. However, if you’re like me, and you have an inkling exercise could help even though it’s been a trigger in the past, I hope you can take the plunge once more and give it another shot with an arsenal of acute meds, ice packs, and comfort foods at the ready just in case 🙂

Has exercise helped or hindered your treatment plan?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Davis GC. Endorphins and Pain. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Published September 1983. Accessed October 17, 2016.


  • Mr FBP
    3 years ago

    A few years ago during a period of depression, my GP told me that exercise in green spaces was the best therapy, and it really worked for me. I’m fortunate to live on the edge of a small town next to a canal that goes through nice countryside. But I also started cycling more and getting deep into the countryside. On bad days I walked a mile or so along the canal. Anything just to get some exercise and fresh air.

    When I tried a gym, I found it quite frustrating by comparison. The lack of variety in the surroundings, the unreal sensation of a spin bike or treadmill compared to the real thing. And the smell, absolutely the smell.

    It’s established that natural fibres such as wool or cotton don’t smell like nylon or polyester fabrics – apparently bacteria in sweat grow superfast on the man made fibres. I have invested over time in a range of merino sports clothes, as they are the most resistant to body odour. I have done 30mile bike rides in merino socks and found they didn’t smell bad at all afterwards!

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Mr FBP, nice to see you this evening! I prefer to work out at home or to map a walking path through the least populated parts of town. I’m very conscious of the stuffy quality if the air in gyms.

    Thhanks for sharing your apparel tip! They sound interesting! Have a great evening! Warmly, Donna ( team)

  • Maureen
    3 years ago

    Exercise has definitely helped me remember who I am and feel better! But it is so hard to get there sometimes… it seems to always be across that really busy highway, through the deep dark forest, past the witches house … you know! all the BAD places we are afraid of. But it is almost always worth going!!! And when I get there and am in the groove, I am like, “Yes! This is what I am supposed to do. Why don’t I do this more often? I really like this. This makes me feel better, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Yes.” And when my muscles hurt it is the good kind of pain:)
    And sometimes I get that wondrous epiphany of, “Hey! That attack that was brewing, never arrived!” Now that really makes me feel good!

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Maureen! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It is hard to get started, but I share your sentiment that once you get moving, you usually feel better. -All Best, Donna ( team)

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