Migraines and Exercise: A Dance Worth Learning
Last updated: August 2022
I love working out – kickboxing, yoga, pilates, and so much more. It boosts my mood. It gives me energy. It helps me feel better in my body during and after my workouts.
But I've had to learn how to adjust my workouts as a migraineur. While regular exercise actually helps me to prevent migraines, sometimes exercise can actually trigger a migraine for me. It's a dance… but a dance worth learning.
Know your body
The first step is knowing your body and how to best support it. We each have unique needs, and it's always important to honor them when creating diet and lifestyle habits – especially exercise.
I have neck and shoulder tension
For example, I know I tend to hold a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. So, if I'm doing any upper body exercise, whether it's a bicep curl in the gym, an arm balancing pose in yoga, or jabbing a punching bag in kickboxing class, I need to proceed with caution. I always scale upper body exercises back until I know I've done them a couple of times and my body is comfortable with the exercise.
Making an adjustment
My neurologist pointed this out years ago when I mentioned that I was getting a lot of headaches after exercise. She asked what I did to work out, and as soon as I said kickboxing, she described how hitting the punching bag created tension in my arms that went straight up to my neck and head. It sounds so obvious, but sometimes, in the moment, we don't realize it.
I decided to take a break from kickboxing at the time, and it made such a big difference for me.
Fuel your body
Exercise requires extra energy from the body, so we need to ensure that we're fueling the body both before and after exercise to support it well.
It is especially important if your migraine attacks are easily triggered by imbalanced blood sugar levels – when you go too long without eating or have meals/snacks that are too high in carbohydrates. You'll need to consider your body's unique needs. However, incorporating a healthy snack shortly before and/or after a workout can be helpful.
Hydrate your body
Don't forget that water is an important fuel for your body too. While we know that dehydration is not the sole cause of a migraine, it certainly can set the stage for making you more vulnerable to your next migraine.
Your body will need an extra boost of water if you're working out, so try to sip water throughout your workout.
Stretch your body
Don't miss the stretch! It's easy to skip the warm-up and cool-down of workouts, thinking they're not important or that you don't have the time for them.
This couldn't be further from the truth, though.
Stretching your body helps to release tension and helps your body transition from the intensity of a workout so you can continue with your day in a much more relaxed way. So, as tempted as you may be to skip the stretch, stick with it, and really focus on releasing any tension in your neck and shoulders.
Have others downplayed your migraine pain?