Guest Post: Exercise - A Personal Discovery

I’m a chronic migraine sufferer who loves to workout. During my worst migraine episodes, getting out of bed is a challenge and cardio exercise was never an option, until two years ago. I tried a new form of exercise and discovered that certain types of exercises can help prevent and relieve migraine pain. That led me to ask, "Why do some exercises prevent or relieve migraine symptoms, like head throbbing, body aches and cloudy thinking, and other exercises don’t?"

Why exercise can increase migraine pain

On one hand, certain types of exercise can increase migraine pain because the body considers exercise to be a stressor. This is because exercise causes our body to create dopamine, a hormone that should give us an uplifted feeling. In small doses, dopamine is good for everyone.

Chronic migraine sufferers, however, experience hypersecretion of dopamine, which triggers the autonomic body to increase adrenaline. Adrenaline, in turn, causes our Sympathetic Nervous System (a pain instigator) to engage the body’s fight-or-flight response. This results in severe mood changes (anger, agitation, anxiousness), along with migraine crisis symptoms of excessive yawning, drowsiness, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, increased heart rate, a raise in blood pressure and narrowing of the blood vessels.

Once the fight-or-flight response is triggered, the brain begins racing to find a way to eliminate the pain, so it increases dopamine levels even more, which increases the pain level even more—and the cycle continues.

Our body's natural pain reliever

Recently, neuroscience has led to some amazing principles that we can apply to an exercise regimen to engage our brains center for decreasing pain without triggering hypersecretion of dopamine. These principles aren’t new. They are just being used in a different way. When applied, they can give some relief to a throbbing head and body. When practiced on a regular basis they work for migraine prevention. The principle focuses on engaging our Parasympathetic Nervous System causing our bodies to relax and release endorphins instead of dopamine. In this way, we trigger our body’s natural pain reliever.

When the Parasympathetic Nervous System is engaged, blood vessels expand to receive more oxygen. Blood flow increases and sends newly created endorphin hormones throughout our body to our opiate receptors. This vasodilation of the blood vessels has an analgesic effect on the brain, naturally fighting pain.

Gentle stretches can be a great option

We can coax the Parasympathetic Nervous System to release endorphins by performing gentle stretches and short bursts of simple cardiovascular exercises. Gentle stretching is a perfect way to start the process. Even just lying in bed and doing a long and lean morning stretch will being the process.

Preventative stretching and cardio-exercises are the best medicine, so try to do complete an exercise series 5-6 times a week. Gentle stretches include: an elongated, early morning stretch, a snow angel, a seated, separate leg-stretch, and a waterfall pose against a wall. The 10-second cardio bursts raise our heart rate just enough to release endorphins without triggering dopamine release. Cardio exercises include: a standing T, a floor superman, and a seated wall chair.

Since I started these exercises two years ago, I have experienced a consistent decrease in the frequency and severity of my migraine episodes. Now, I consider these exercises to be a necessary preventative medicine. While I still have several migraines per month, I have not spent more than three days in bed due to a migraine and its symptoms in over a year. For me, this has been quite a breakthrough and I’m hopeful that it will be for you, too.

Gentle Stretches

10 -second Cardio

A little bit about Christine:
Christine lives by the credo: “Encourage others daily”. She is passionate about supporting people with Chronic Migraine Syndrome, connecting via health-a-licious.blogspot.com; her health-centered blog, out-lining her daily struggles living with chronic migraines affected by genetics, thyroid issues and food. Christine is an Associate Professor in the fields of Business and Technology, along with being an entrepreneur, writer and illustrator. She lives life closely surrounded by family, her husband JT, and their two Jack Russel Terriers, Dozer and Bosco.

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