Is Exercise a Drug Free Migraine Treatment or Trigger?

March 12, 2013

Hoping to treat your chronic migraine condition drug free, you have followed the advice of experts: maintained a migraine diary, tracked your personal triggers, avoided commonly known triggers, and made positive lifestyle changes.  However, you may be missing out on the therapeutic effects of exercise, if you, like many migraineurs, have been conditioned to avoid exercise due to its migraine inducing reputation.  While this sounds contradictory, there is actually a wealth of research and literature that supports both positive and negative connections between exercise and chronic migraine.

Several reasons may account for the fact that exercise might have triggered your migraines in the past.  These include:

  • Intense exercise on an infrequent basis, resulting in strained muscles and body tension
  • Exercising without proper nutrition and hydration
  • Shocking your system with a new restrictive diet and a new exercise regimen at the same time
  • Overexertion while plunging into exercise at high altitudes or in extreme weather without gradual conditioning and preparation
  • Improper breathing or holding your breath while straining, depriving your body of needed oxygen

With proper planning and precautions, however, there are many benefits to your overall well being from exercise.  As a drug-free migraine treatment, exercise can help prevent the onset of migraines, as well as lessen the severity of migraine attacks that do occur.  Research has suggested that mild aerobic activities, performed on a regular basis, are beneficial.  These included jogging, bicycling, walking, swimming and dancing.

The following tips should help make exercising a pleasant and migraine friendly experience:

  • Keep your activity moderate, especially at the beginning, and aim for 30-minute sessions, 3-4 times per week.
  • Avoid long-term commitments to pricey health clubs, but rather visit community athletic facilities or recreational parks.
  • Maintain a migraine diary to track your activities, medications, foods, drink and duration of exercise to determine your body’s reaction to various stimuli.
  • Make sure to prepare appropriately with proper clothing, footwear, warm-ups and stretching.
  • Stay hydrated before, during and after exercising, and eat a well-balanced snack at least 1-2 hours before heading out to avoid a migraine triggering blood sugar drop.

So, if you suffer with chronic migraines, and avoid exercising out of fear that it will trigger an attack, you may want to reconsider and give it a try.  Regular exercise, in moderation and with planning and preparation, may be a drug free migraine solution for times when you want to avoid taking medication and treat yourself to a healthier habit.

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